By Lucky Gold & Richa Naik, CNN
For nine months Islamic militants have had the legendary city of Timbuktua in a head lock, destroying ancient monuments and enforcing their brand of Sharia law in northern Mali.
France now has 1,800 troops on the ground in Mali and has pledged to keep them there until stability returns to the nation.
Even though French troops have not reached Timbuktu yet, the rebels have withdrawn and people are coming out of hiding.
Some victims of the militants bear horrific scars and tell stories of draconian punishment, but now people are beginning to celebrate.
One man there said just being able to step out and smoke a cigarette was a sign of progress.
Women can choose to walk outside again without a headscarf and people are waving French flags in Bamako, Mali’s capital city.
France’s president vows that French troops will stay “as long as it takes” to build Mali’s army back up, so that country can take on the long struggle against the Islamic militants.
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