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.
Adama Drabo, 16, sits in the police station in Sevare, Mali, January 25, 2013. He was captured traveling without papers by Malian troops and arrested on suspicion of working for Islamic militant group MUJAO.
French soldiers sing the national anthem during a ceremony with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, before their departure to Mali, at Miramas Military base, France, January 25, 2013.
Malian troops man an observation post outside Sevare, Mali January 24, 2013.
French soldiers at an observation post outside Sevare, Mali, about 400 miles north of the capital Bamako, January 24, 2013.
A boy who fled northern Mali is seen at a camp for internally displaced persons in Sevare, Mali, January 23, 2013.
People who fled northern Mali are seen at a camp for internally displaced persons, in the city of Sevare, Mali, January 23, 2013.
Malians hang on the back of a packed minibus as they drive to Marakala, central Mali, 240 kilometers from Bamako, January 22, 2013.
A French soldier carries his equipment after arriving on a US Air Force C-17 transport plane at the airport in Bamako, Mali, January 22, 2013.
Malian soldiers carry a box of ammunition after searching through debris at a military camp in Diabaly, Mali, January 21 2013.
Charred pickup trucks, which according to local villagers, belonged to al-Qaida-linked rebels and destroyed by French airstrikes, are seen in Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A Malian soldier walks inside a military camp used by radical Islamists and bombarded by French warplanes, in Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
An unidentified man takes a picture of the charred remains of trucks used by radical Islamists on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.