Mali's military said Aug. 14 that troops from the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) could assist in a campaign to take back the country's north from Islamist rebels, but would not be allowed in the capital, Bamako. "There is no question of soldiers from ECOWAS bloc in Bamako but [they could send] some to the North. We could have 600-800 ECOWAS troops in support of ours," said chief of staff Col. Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele. (Reuters, Aug. 14) One week earlier, Iyad Ag Ghali—leader of Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups in control of the north—met with Burkina Faso's foreign minister, Djibril Bassole, in the northern town of Kidal, and said he is open to mediation efforts to reunite the country. "We are going to work together to find peace,’" Ag Ghali told reporters at Kidal airport.
Hundreds of pastoralists in the Mopti region of central Mali are trapped between floodplains to the south and armed Islamist rebels to the north. The nomadic herders, mostly of the Peulh (Fulani) ethnicity, fear that their way of life faces an imminent end. "It's all over—it's finished," Ibrahim Koita, head of the Society of Social Welfare in Mopti Region, told UN news agency IRIN in the capital, Bamako, where he is trying to pressure donors for more aid. Pastoralists from the northern regions of Adara, Azawad, Tiilenis and Gourma generally head to southern Mali, and into Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast or as far as Togo in search of pasture before the rainy season, which lasts from June to October. Once the rains arrive, they move north again to avoid the Middle Niger Delta flood zone, finding renewed pasturelands on the edge of the desert. But at the end of July, pasture had yet to appear in the north.
Amnesty International warned after a visit to Mali July 31 that the country is slipping into "human rights chaos," with abuses documented in the government-controlled south as well as the rebel-held north. Amnesty documented at least one incident in the north in which a couple were stoned to death for pre-marital sex. But in the south, the army has been involved in extra-judicial killings, torture and sexual abuse since staging a coup in March, Amnesty found, demanding an investigation. The military has handed power to a civilian-led interim government, but that government appears to rule at the army's behest. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reports that it has "visited 79 Malian military personnel held by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in the Tinzaouatène area of northeastern Mali." A map indicates that Tinzaouatène is actually just across the border from northern Mali's Kidal region in Algerian territory. All previous reports indicate that MNLA forces have been entirely pushed out of northern Mali by Islamist forces.