While French and Malian forces have taken control of Timbuktu's airport in what NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports may be a turning point in their fight against Islamist extremists, there's also word that before the Islamists fled the ancient city they set fire to a library that holds "thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts."
Tourism, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people in the West African country of Mali, has ground to a halt. Since the coup in March and the subsequent occupation of the north by militants linked to al-Qaida, Mali has virtually become a no-go zone for visitors. The impact on the economy and people's lives is profound.
In the historic city of Segou, about 150 miles north of the capital, Bamako, the effects are obvious.
On a recent day, the engine of the brightly painted pinasse, a wooden boat handcrafted with a swooping wicker canopy, slowly starts up.
Mali is a country rich in culture, both old and new.
The banging of hammers on silver echos through the main crafts market in Bamako, Mali's capital. It's usually teeming in a place where you can buy anything, from silver earrings to batik fabric, all of it handmade.
And despite its remote location, Mali has enhanced its cultural reputation in recent years with an annual international music and arts festival in the Sahara Desert near Timbuktu, drawing both African and Western artists.
The ancient desert town of Timbuktu is under assault in the west African nation of Mali. Islamist forces have taken over much of northern Mali where Timbuktu is located. One group, allied with al-Qaida, has begun systematically destroying Shrines that celebrate ancient Muslim saints. Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Corinne Dufka talks to Renee Montagne about the destruction.