President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaore
ECOWAS Mediator Begins Talks On Mali Crisis
President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaore has begun talks with Malian politicians and junta in a bid to put an end to the crisis in the African nation.
Compaore, who is also the mediator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said on Saturday that talks are aimed at finalizing an accord reached last week for a return to civilian rule and ways to end a rebellion that has left Mali in the hands of separatists, AFP reported.
The official further urged Malians to express support for the interim government which is being formed “to strengthen the rule of law, respect republican values and maintain the integrity of the country.”
On Thursday, former Malian Parliament Speaker Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as interim civilian president after Amadou Toumani Toure resigned under an April 6 agreement.
The power vacuum following the coup permeated Tuareg separatist rebels in northern Mali to declare an independent state, larger than the size of France.
The junta justified toppling former President Amadou Toumani Toure on the grounds that that the government had failed in resisting the separatists.
Following the coup, however, rebels vastly strengthened their position and captured key towns in the country’s north.
Under mounting regional and international pressure, the coup leaders handed power over to Traore as part of a deal brokered by ECOWAS.
The ECOWAS has said it is ready to send some 3,000 troops to assist the civilian leader in reclaiming northern Mali.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that growing tensions between different ethnic groups in the country are increasing the risk of sectarian violence.
She said the situation appears to be deteriorating in Mali. She cited reports of civilians being killed, robbed, raped and forced to leave their homes, while hospitals and medical facilities have been looted.
Mali ready to talk to rebels, not “foreigners”
Mali’s interim president is willing to open dialogue with Tuareg-led rebels and Islamists occupying the north of the West African country, but “armed foreign jihadist groups” among them should leave, a Malian envoy and mediator said on Sunday.
“We want to resolve the difficulties in the north of our country through dialogue and negotiation,” Tiebile Drame, a prominent Malian politician and mediator for interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore, told Reuters in Nouakchott.
Malian envoys later met a separatist MNLA rebel delegation, which said further talks were possible and indicated that they would consider a form of federation within Mali rather than a new state, which has already been rejected by world leaders.
Mali has been divided in two since the rebels declared an independent Tuareg homeland in the north this month, following a March 22 military coup in the southern capital Bamako that led to the insurgents capturing key northern towns.
Drame, who opposed the Bamako coup, was accompanied by Mustapha Diko, an aide of Traore, who was sworn in on Thursday in a transition deal. Traore has vowed to restore Mali’s territorial integrity, by military force if necessary.
The two envoys met Mauritanian President Mohamed Abdel Aziz to request his help in solving the Malian crisis. “We’ve come to look for credible interlocutors,” Drame said.
While offering dialogue to the MNLA, Drame said the separatist Tuareg rebels should bear in mind that no foreign government nor international organisation had recognised their declaration of an independent Azawad homeland in the north.
He recommended they withdraw this declaration of northern independence, saying this would “accelerate the dialogue that we want to have with them”.
Speaking after a meeting with the delegation from Bamako, Hama Ag Mahmoud, a senior MNLA figure in Mauritania, said that the idea of a federation as well as an independent state would both be on the table in further talks.
“We would need guarantees from the international community on the implementation by both sides of any deal and that talks would be held by a legitimate government in Bamako,” he said.
OCCUPIERS NOT LIBERATORS
Drame said the rebels’ occupation of major northern towns like Timbuktu and Gao had created a “humanitarian crisis” and added many residents there saw them as occupiers not liberators.
He made clear that the offer of talks did not extend to what he called “armed foreign jihadist groups” which had taken advantage of the lightning MNLA rebel advance southwards to establish themselves deeper in Malian territory.
This was a clear reference to members of al Qaeda who have been using north Mali, a vast and rugged area bigger than France, as a base from which to seize and hold Western hostages.
“We want those who are not Malian to quickly leave … because they’ve no reason to be on our soil,” Drame said.
He said the authorities in southern Mali had also been in contact with another of the principal north Mali rebel groups, the Islamist Ansar Dine movement led by veteran Tuareg insurgent Iyad Ag Ghali, whom he said “we know well”.
Ag Ghali, he said, recently freed 161 Malian army prisoners captured during the rebel advance. “I think there are objective conditions for a frank and sincere discussion,” Drame said.
The declaration of a Tuareg rebel homeland in northern Mali has raised fears among Western security experts that the remote, inhospitable zone could become a secure haven for al Qaeda and a “rogue state” in West Africa.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday it was essential to prevent a “terrorist or Islamic state” emerging in northern Mali.
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher and David Lewis)
Swiss woman abducted by gunmen in northern Mali
A Swiss woman has been abducted in the rebel-held northern Malian city of Timbuktu, officials and residents said.
The woman, a Christian in her 40s called Beatrice, was kidnapped from her house by armed men, residents said.
Most foreigners fled Timbuktu after Tuareg and Islamist rebels seized the town early this month in the aftermath of a military coup.
The kidnap comes amid concern the area could offer a safe haven to an al-Qaeda branch which operates in the country.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North African wing, has links to the Islamist rebels. The group is already holding 13 Westerners.
“Beatrice, a Swiss national, was abducted this Sunday at Timbuktu by armed men,” local official Mohamed Ould Hassen told AFP.
One resident of the town told the news agency that they saw six armed men take the woman.
“They shouted ‘Allah Akbar’ [God is great],” the resident added.
Sources cited by Reuters said the woman, who stayed in the Abaradjou neighbourhood, had lived in Timbuktu for some years and knew several local languages.
Islamist group Ansar Dine and secular Tuareg rebels seized territory in the north of the country after Mali was plunged into political crisis when the president was overthrown in a coup.
After facing sanctions from regional body Ecowas and being unable to control the rebellion in the north, coup leaders in Banako later agreed to hand over power to civilian rule.
The Mess in Mali: The Logic of Unintended Consequences
The intentional misreading of UN security council resolution 1973 resulted in Nato’s predictably violent Operation Odyssey in Libya last year.
Not only did the action cost many thousands of lives and untold destruction, it also paved the way for perpetual conflict – not only in Libya but throughout north Africa.
Mali was the first major victim of Nato’s Libyan intervention. It is now a staple in world news and headlines such as “The mess in Mali” serve as a mere reminder of a bigger “African mess.”
On March 17 last year resolution 1973 resolved to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.
On March 19, Nato’s bombers began scorching Libyan land, supposedly to prevent a massacre of civilians.
The next day, an ad-hoc high-level African Union panel on Libya met in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, and made one last desperate call to bring Nato’s war to an immediate halt.
It stated: “Our desire is that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected as well as the rejection of any kind of foreign military intervention.”
The African Union (AU) is seldom considered a viable political player by the UN, Nato or any interventionist Western power.
But AU members were fully aware that Nato was unconcerned with human rights or the well-being of African nations.
They also knew that instability in one African country can lead to major instabilities throughout the region.
Various north African countries are glued together by a delicate balance – due to the messy colonial legacy inherited from colonial powers – and Mali is no exception.
It is perhaps too early to talk about winners and losers in the Mali fiasco, which was triggered on March 22 by a military coup led by army captain Amadou Sanogo.
The coup created political space for the Tuaregs’ National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to declare independence in the north merely two weeks later.
The declaration was the culmination of quick military victories by MNLA and its militant allies, which led to the capture of Gao and other major towns.
These successive developments further emboldened Islamic and other militant groups to seize cities across the country and hold them hostage to their ideological and other agendas.
Ansar al-Din, for example, had reportedly worked in tandem with the MNLA, but declared a war “against independence” and “for Islam” as soon as it secured its control over Timbuktu.
More groups and more arms are now pouring through the ever-porous borders with Mauritania, Algeria and Niger.
Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, along with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are now making their moves across Mali.
New alliances are being formed and new emirates are being declared, making Mali a potential stage for numerous permanent conflicts.
Speaking to the Guardian, former UN regional envoy Robert Fowler railed against Nato.
“Whatever the motivation of the principal Nato belligerents [in ousting Gadaffi], the law of unintended consequences is exacting a heavy toll in Mali today and will continue to do so throughout the Sahel as the vast store of Libyan weapons spreads across this, one of the most unstable regions of the world.”
Considering that the inevitability of post-Libya destabilisation was obvious to so many from the start, why the insistence on referencing a “law of unintended consequences”?
Even “chaos” has its own logic. For several years, and especially since the establishment of the United States Africa Command (Africom) in 2008, much meddling has taken place in various parts of Africa.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Gregory Mann tried to undermine the fact that Sanogo “had American military training, and briefly affected a US Marine Corps lapel pin.”
He said that these details “are surely less important than the stunning fact that a decade of American investment in special forces training, co-operation between Sahalien armies and the United States and counter-terrorism programmes of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds.”
The details are hardly “less important,” considering that Sanogo called for international military intervention against the newly declared Tuareg republic, referencing Afghanistan as a model.
True, regional African countries and international institutions have strongly objected to both the military coup in the capital Bamako and the declaration of independence by the Tuaregs in the north, but that may prove irrelevant after all.
The Azawad succession appears permanent and the US, although it suspended part of the aid to Mali following the junta’s takeover, has not severed all ties with Sanogo.
After all, he too claims to be fighting al-Qaida and its allies.
It is difficult to believe that despite years of US-French involvement in Mali and surrounding region, the bedlam wasn’t predictable.
The US position regarding the coup was precarious.
“The Obama administration has not yet made a formal decision as to whether a military coup has taken place in Mali,” wrote John Glaster in AntiWar.com.
According to US military definitions, this is still a “mutiny, not a ‘coup’” and US army personnel – referred to as “advisory troops” – were in fact dispatched to Bamako after March 22, according to Africom spokeswoman Nicole Dalrymple.
What is clear is that the “mess in Mali” might be an opportunity for another intervention, which mainstream media sources are already rationalising.
A Washington Post editorial on April 5 counselled: “Nato partners should perceive a moral obligation, as well as a tangible national security interest, in restoring Mali’s previous order. The West should not allow its intervention in Libya to lead to the destruction of democracy – and entrenchment of Islamic militants – in a neighbouring state.”
Unintended consequences? Hardly.