A commercial flight landed in Timbuktu on Monday for the first time since jihadists captured the fabled Malian city in 2012, launching a new link for local airline Sky Mali.
Carrying a delegation including two ministers, the plane landed after making the 700-kilometre (435-mile) journey from the capital Bamako via the central city Mopti in two hours.
People travelling the same route by road or along the river Niger still face attacks from bandits and jihadists.
Owned by Emirati investment firm Al Sayegh Group, Sky Mali plans two Bamako-Timbuktu flights per week with stopovers in Mopti.
It has already set up links to Kayes on the Senegalese border and Gao in Mali’s north since its founding last July.
Jihadist attacks and inter-ethnic fighting have roiled northern Mali for years, spreading southward into the country’s centre as well as across its borders.
Fundamentalist groups linked to Al-Qaeda overran Timbuktu in 2012, an ancient city known until then for its treasured historic Islamic manuscripts and as an exotic destination for tourists from all over the world.
The tombs of 333 “Muslim saints” in the city are believed by locals to offer protection, and have earned it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some were partially destroyed by the jihadists, rebuilt with UNESCO help.
For now, the tourist trade has not returned to Timbuktu as violence continues to rage in northern and central Mali.