Two articles on Mali
They were told to assemble in Gao’s market place at dusk. A man accused of using tobacco was escorted before the crowd by several members of the al-Qaida splinter group Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa.
“Then they chopped off his hand. They wanted to show us what they could do,” said Ahmed, 39, a meat trader from the town in northern Mali.
That was not the end of it. The severed hand was tossed into a vat of boiling water. Then, according to Ahmed, the man was pinned down and over the next hour the bent, misshapen hand was sewn crudely back onto his stump. Ahmed, too terrified to disclose his full name, fled Gao the next day, 8 November: “I had to go. I could not live my life.”
Fresh witness accounts such as this, from people arriving smothered in the red Sahel dust that clogs every pore at the refugee camps straddling the border with Burkina Faso, suggest that the situation in northern Mali is deteriorating fast. Given the dangerous situation in the region, it was impossible to verify the accounts, but they were numerous and disturbing.
Islamist militants who seized control of an area larger than the UK six months ago have imposed their ultra-conservative brand of sharia law. The tales recounted suggest a population subjugated by a regime well versed in appalling brutality. Allegations of war crimes include summary executions, mass rape, racism and the targeting of elders by child soldiers recruited by the extremists. Some allege that child soldiers are being forced to rape women.
Targeting tribal elders is intended to remove any competing sources of authority and to prevent those elders from becoming locci for an uprising against the terrorists. It seems Al Qaeda learned a lesson from the drubbing it got from the Anbar Awakening in 2007 and is taking action to prevent a repeat of that event.
Although the army returned power to a civilian government in April, the coup leaders retained control of the army. The army objected to plans (approved by the civilian government) to use a UN approved ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) peacekeeper force to regain control of the north. The Mali army believed they should be given new weapons and training and allowed to retake the north by themselves, with perhaps some help from foreign troops or aircraft. Western and ECOWAS does not believe the Mali army was up to that task and did not want to make the Mali army any stronger as long as the army leaders had set themselves up as the ultimate political force in the country. Now the army has forcibly removed the civilian government and replaced it with civilians known to be allies of the army leadership. The Mali army failed to maintain government control of the north and is now the main obstacle to regaining control of the north.
The UN has still not approved the ECOWAS invasion of northern Mali. The ECOWAS nations do not want Islamic radical groups running northern Mali as a terrorist sanctuary. Western nations are even more upset at this prospect. The Mali army leadership apparently believes they can work out a compromise with the northern rebels, one that will keep the ECOWAS force out and the coup leaders in power. That power will make the coup leaders rich, given the prevalence of corruption in Mali. The UN is not in a hurry to approve a peacekeeping mission that is opposed by the army leadership of the nation the peacekeepers are going to.
Sad to say, nothern Mali is going to have suffer under the iron heel of Radical Islam until the political situation in the south is sorted out. An armed intervention would be useless until it can be paired with a repairing of the political problems that have left Mali in such dire straights.