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But Salif turned down the offer. He now lives outside rebel territory in Mopti, and is already hoping that one day the rebels will leave. When they do, he does not want the people of Timbuktu to know him as another child soldier who worked for them.

“My parents would not want me taking part in something like that,” he said. “And I’m not brave enough to shoot anybody.”

Ahmed reported from Douentza, Mali.