Residents of Mali's northern city of Gao played music in the streets, danced, smoked and wore Western-style clothing Sunday to celebrate the recapture of the city from Islamic extremists.
French and Malian forces retook the city Saturday from the Islamists, who fled without offering any resistance. The population of Gao is enjoying its first full day without Islamic sharia law in months.
VOA West African correspondent Anne Look, who is in the Malian capital, Bamako, spoke to residents of Gao by telephone. They told her the Islamists are in hiding, in villages 10 to 15 kilometers outside Gao.
Some residents said the people of Gao are hunting down anyone who collaborated with the Islamist occupiers, and they predicted severe punishment would be meted out.
French and Malian forces are also closing in on militants in the historic city of Timbuktu.
Malian military sources say troops have reached the edge of Timbuktu without meeting any resistance.
The ancient desert city is a UNESCO heritage site and home of dozens of mosques and monuments honoring ancient Muslim saints.
France began a military offensive in Mali earlier this month, after rebels who had seized control of much of the country's northern territory last year began pushing toward Bamako.
In areas they controlled, the rebels put a strict form of Islamic law into effect and carried out harsh punishment on civilians who failed to comply with regulations.