I just returned from a trip to Mali. I had planned to fly to Timbuktu and Mopti and hike in the Dogon Country. The situation is far worse than anywhere mentioned in the Western press. The Tuareg are holding hostages in the eastern part of Mali. The city of Timbuktu is not safe either. The embassy advisories have to be taken very seriously. Westerners are taken hostage and a ransom is demanded. Most Westerners now either work for a government or a NGO organization. The criminals will contact the organization or governments and huge sums are shelled out right away. If you travel as an unaffiliated tourist you can be killed. The land borders between Mali and Burkina Faso are not safe and Al-Queida is very active in those areas, trying to take Westerns as hostages.