Mali: new prez pledges "total war" against Tuaregs; Sarkozy pleased
A civilian transition president—Dioncounda Traore, leader of the national assembly—was sworn in April 13 in Mali, under a deal brokered by West African powers with leaders of the last month's coup d'etat. At his inauguration, he told cheering crowds he he would "never negotiate about the partition of Mali." Refering to the rebels that have seized power in the north, he said: "We won't hesitate to wage a total, relentless war to regain our territorial integrity and also to kick out of our country all these invaders who bring despair and misery." (AP, April 13) Ironically, his accusations of an "invasion" came just as a foreign military intervention is being organized to beat back the northern rebels. In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy talked as if France were in charge of the operation: "We have to work with the Tuaregs to see how they can have a minimum of autonomy and we must do everything to prevent the establishment of a terrorist or Islamic state in the heart of the Sahel," he said on TV. Asked if France will be involved in the intervention, he said: "I don't think it’s up to France to do it. France is ready to help, but we cannot be the leader..." (Reuters, April 14)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay raised other concerns. In a statement, she said: "The urgency of the situation in Mali is exacerbating an already extremely serious humanitarian crisis affecting the whole of the Sahel region, and the country may soon be plunged into a devastating food crisis with a risk of other shortages, including medical supplies, if the insurrections and insecurity persist." (Jurist, April 12)
Who actually controls the north remains unclear. The Tuareg rebels of the MNLA continue to issue statements espousing their democratic aims and decrying efforts to associate them with Islamists. Meanwhile, Inter-Press Service, one of the few media outlets to provide interviews from observers and residents on the ground in northern Mali, reports that all three of the northern cities—Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal—are in the hands of Islamist factions, most prominently Ansar al-Din (Supporters of the Faith). Magharebia, a news service of the Pentagon's Africa Command, quotes "terrorism analyst" Mohamed Mahmoud Aboulmaaly saying: "People coming from areas ruled by Ansar al-Din, such as Tessalit and Aguelhok, say it is like life in Afghanistan at the time of Taliban."