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Mali In Crisis Fractures Along Twin Fault Lines

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
August 7, 2012

A rebellion in northern Mali, followed by a military coup in the south, has shattered the veneer of stability in the country that had been hailed for 20 years as a model democracy in turbulent West Africa.

Now Mali is facing twin crises, prompting regional and international fears that the north — currently controlled by extremist Islamist rebels — is a terrorist safe haven. And the politicians who are meant to be fixing the problems are mired in bickering.

Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, says his priority is to liberate the Sahara Desert nation’s northern region and drive out al-Qaida-linked extremists, who after a rebellion that began in March now command a vast zone the size of Texas.

At the end of July, Traore flew home to the Malian capital, Bamako, from Paris, where he spent two months recuperating after being beaten in May by supporters of the coup. And, says commentator Adam Thiam, the north is just one of the problems facing Traore.

“Mali is not out of danger. In the north of the country, you have jihadists. You have no army,” he says. “If the right mediation, right negotiations and the right steps are not taken, one cannot exclude a civil war in Mali. You can’t rule it out.”

The al-Qaida-affiliated Islamists now controlling northern Mali have imposed strict Islamic law; a couple accused of adultery was recently stoned to death. And the Islamists have destroyed World Heritage sites, including the sacred tombs of revered Sufi saints, in Timbuktu.

Mali is overwhelmingly Muslim. Imam Mohamed Toure studied Islam in Saudi Arabia for five years. At his mosque in Bamako, he condemns what he describes as the desecration of the Timbuktu mausoleums.

“Yes, I want Mali to become a Shariah nation, but Islamic law should not be imposed by men armed with guns. That’s wrong. Only military intervention will push them out,” Toure says. “Inshallah, God willing, Shariah will find its own way into Mali.”

But the Islamists’ occupation of Mali’s strategic northern cities is just one problem facing the interim government. In the capital, human rights groups accuse ex-junta soldiers of gross violations. Former members of the presidential guard, who failed in their counter-coup bid, have been detained and reportedly tortured. And there have been attacks and death threats against journalists.

Demanding an end to the harassment, media workers descended on the streets of Bamako in protest in July. Makan Kone, who heads Mali’s press club, was among them.

“We are obliged to do something — talk to the authorities, that our freedom is not negotiable. The government is managing nothing. The junta is behind everything that happens in this country,” Kone says. “The government is doing nothing.”

Many Malians, like Makoro Coulibaly, are apprehensive. They thought they’d left the days of conflict behind years ago. Shopping in Bamako’s muddy Badalabougou market, for food to break the Muslim Ramadan fast, Coulibaly appealed to the government to act.

“We must unite. … We must join hands to help our sisters and mothers and friends who live in the north of our country. We want peace,” she says.

And it’s the rebellion in the north most Malians — and Mali’s allies — are worrying about. The U.S. is concerned that the extremists have established a sanctuary for al-Qaida and its affiliates in the troubled desert sands of northern Mali. The West African bloc wants to deploy regional troops to the north. For now, though, it’s unclear whether military intervention is the answer. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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