The seizure of northern Mali by Islamist militant groups has led to chaos, with thousands of people fleeing the region to avoid violence.
THE Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) wants to send about 3000 troops to Mali – a move that carries serious risks.
But with food running short and a major humanitarian crisis unfolding, fear is growing about the new ruling powers in Timbuktu and Gao.
Nearly 200,000 people have fled Mali and sought refuge in neighbouring countries, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR).
Another 155,000 people have been displaced within Mali itself.
“It became too risky for myself and my family in Timbuktu. Nobody knows what will happen next,” Mahmud Ag Abdulahi said from a refugee camp in Burkina Faso.
There is also growing fear that the conflict could engulf the entire Sahel region of West Africa. Comparisons have been made between the fractured situation in Mali and that of Afghanistan.
ECOWAS wants to step in before the situation deteriorates any further and Islamist militants destabilise the whole region.
However, everyone involved is acutely aware of the risks attached to any military intervention. Apart from armed Tuareg organisations, the region also hosts al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Ansar Dine group which is said to have links to al-Qaeda, and the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
A regional summit of ECOWAS heads of state at the weekend, in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, brings hope of agreement on a strategy for dealing with Mali.
“The unity of Mali has to be secured,” ECOWAS spokesman Sunny Ugoh said in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
Mali’s weak central government and its powerless parliament in Bamako have both appealed for African solidarity and called for the deployment of troops.
Interim President Dioncounda Traore has been in Paris since the end of May, after being attacked by demonstrators in the capital.
The African Union (AU) also plans to discuss Mali at its summit next week in in Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital.
With Mali essentially split in two, and Islamist groups controlling the north, there are fears that the violence could increase further.
At a si*t-in in Bamako earlier this week, more than 2,000 demonstrators demanded action against the northern separatists. The people of Mali want steps to be taken against all the armed groups in the north, according to Hamidou Konate, director of Radio Jamana.
Fear is growing in the south that the rebel groups could achieve their objective – a divided Mali, with the north under separatist control.
Not every rebel group active in the north of the country can be considered Islamist. A Tuareg tribal militia known as the Liberation Army of Azawad (MLNA) is also fighting for autonomy for the north of Mali, but was ousted from Gao and Timbuktu by Islamist fighters.
On April 6, the MNLA declared an independent north Malian state, naming it Azawad. The Tuaregs signalled that they would be prepared to take on the Islamic militants if Azawad was recognised.
It remains unclear, however, whether the MNLA is in the position to mobilise any kind of significant armed force to take on the militants.
MNLA spokesman Mossa Ag Assarid recently admitted that the north of Mali was in the hands of the Islamists. The destruction of seven shrines in Timbuktu is seen as clear evidence that the rebels will halt at nothing. The MNLA army has long lost control of the region.
“We are still strong but the others have weapons and money with which they are able to buy the people,” said Assarid, who condemned he destruction of the holy shrines in Timbuktu, which are UNESCO world heritage sites.
The MNLA hopes it can hold its position.
“We have erected roadblocks to prevent the others from advancing any further. We have a presence,” he said.
We enjoin our readers to send their stories/articles/reports, including pictures to email@example.com
Category: Africa News