As Mali’s feuding parties dither, the extremists may get stronger again
IN THE lobby of Bamako’s El-Farouq hotel, Ould Mohamed Ousmane Omar, a middle-aged Malian Arab whose life has been one of exile, rebellion and plot, is gossiping about friends and enemies. Take the Tuareg rebels, whose 2012 rebellion precipitated the fall of northern Mali to al-Qaeda-linked extremists. “They’re only in it for their own gain,” he says, adjusting the white veil of his turban to reveal a wisp of goatee. Or Mali’s new government, which, he grimaces, “knows nothing—not the north, not the Tuareg, not the problems. It’s so easy to fool.” As for his own faction, the Arab Movement of Azawad (as some northern Malians call their homeland), Mr Omar can only lament that an international conspiracy to thwart its potency has cracked it down the middle. But then again, he says, few of his erstwhile colleagues were ever more than “second-class” and “drug dealers”. Read the rest of this entry »
It took Ibrahim Touré three weeks to escape from Timbuktu after rebels seized the desert town, but, in his heart, he hasn’t really left. The 26-year-old shopkeeper studies the floor as he talks, cradling a welter of scabs and fresh scar tissue on his right elbow. Sometimes he stops to rub his head with an uncertain hand — the unforgiving sun, maybe, or a reaction to the horrors he has seen and suffered. If what he says is true, then the fog of war in northern Mali — where Tuareg separatists, Islamic militants, Arab militias and a hodgepodge of terrorist groups are vying for control following a spectacularly successful military campaign — is concealing a grisly spate of human-rights abuses, humanitarian suffering and war crimes. Read the rest of this entry »
EVERY morning a bus caked in dust pulls into Bamako bringing the latest rumours of war. Looking dazed and dehydrated after 24 hours on the road, Mohammad Maiga explains how Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants have turned his native Gao, northern Mali’s most populous town, into a ghost town. “Everyone is leaving,” says Mr Maiga. “There’s no food, no supplies.” Blackouts last all day. Banks and offices have been pillaged by rampant rebels. Read the rest of this entry »
Caked in dust and bristling with weaponry, the Tuareg rebels smiled at Neil Whitehead and Diane English. “It’s okay, we’re here for your protection,” one of the veiled warriors grinned at the nervous couple. Caught up in the middle of a war after Tuareg separatists advanced hundreds of miles in a matter of hours, the hotel-owners had tried twice already to leave their adopted home of Timbuktu. At first, retreating army columns had blocked their way. Then, when the road eventually cleared, English and Whitehead ran straight into a firefight. “There were guns going off all around us and tracer going past the cab windows, and we thought, ‘This isn’t good’,” English says, with a flash of understatement. Read the rest of this entry »
Rebels in Mali completed their capture of the biggest population centres in the north of the country yesterday by taking the historic trading town of Timbuktu.
Its capitulation, eight days after a coup by junior officers in the capital, Bamako, which overthrew the democratically elected Government, marks the latest gain in a three-day advance by the Tuareg rebels. The junta said that it was seeking to negotiate a peace deal with the rebels and sent representatives to discuss a ceasefire.
The Tuareg forces, thought to be about 1,000, have exploited the uncertainty caused by the overthrow of the Government of President Amadou Toumani Touré, which has left the army with no clear chain of command. Read the rest of this entry »
The allegedly al-Qaeda-linked faction of the Tuareg rebellion in troubled Mali seems more of an opportunistic break than a real extension of the terror group
Somewhere close to the Algerian border a delegation of Tuareg notables hurried through the desert for a summit. It was mid-March and there was dissension among them. One of their own, a renegade desert warrior called Iyad ag Ghali, had just thrown the Tuaregs’ meticulously plotted rebellion against the Malian government into jeopardy. In proclamations appearing on YouTube, ag Ghali’s spokesman had done everything that the committee behind the two-month-old uprising by Tuareg rebels wanted to avoid. “It is our obligation to fight for the application of Shar’ia in Mali,” the spokesman said. The poisonous phrase, seized eagerly by a Malian government smarting from military defeat, undid months of careful political messaging. Now everyone would think the Tuareg were in bed with al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »
Mali’s coup leaders tighten their hold but inspire little confidence
IF ANYONE knows what is happening in Mali, it should be Captain Amadou Sanogo. Sliding forward on the shiny beige sofa into which he has sunk, he insists that things are moving “as I want. Moving as I prepared…allowing me to engage, to start with my processes.” Yet the 40-year-old officer with a sandpaper rasp seems to be putting a brave face on what looks, in fact, like an accidental coup that was almost invited by the government it toppled. Read the rest of this entry »
Within 24 hours Mali’s stable democracy has reached the brink of civil war, reports Julius Cavendish in Bamako
Mali was on the brink of civil war last night after mutinous soldiers led by a cadre of young officers seized the capital, Bamako, but failed to corner President Touré, who regrouped outside the city with a crack unit of paratroopers.
The renegade soldiers, angered by the Government’s failure to arm them to fight Tuareg rebels, stormed the presidential palace overnight, arresting senior members of the Cabinet.
Some troops fuelled by alcohol then went on a rampage, looting the palace, which bestrides limestone cliffs overlooking the centre of Bamako, and carting off flat-screen televisions, computer monitors and photocopiers. Read the rest of this entry »
To cries of Allahu akbar and the din of heavy weaponry looted from Colonel Gaddafi’s arsenals, Tuareg rebels rode out of the desert on January 17 to attack the flyblown town of Ménaka in eastern Mali.
The veiled warriors, historically known as the Blue Men because of their distinctive flowing indigo robes and black headscarves, struck at dawn, their armoured column approaching army and National Guard posts, sending the government troops fleeing.
In successive months they waged a lightning brand of desert warfare, striking on multiple fronts and humiliating the Malian Army with a series of defeats. Read the rest of this entry »