REBELS in the north of Mali have seized an area the size of
France, prompting 200,000 civilians to flee, and leaving the region
"on the brink of major humanitarian disaster", aid agencies have
On 21 March, the President was deposed in a coup, orchestrated
by soldiers angry at his alleged failure to control insurrection by
Tuareg rebels in the north of the country. The upheaval, however,
enabled the rebels to gain the upper hand, and they have since
gained control of a large region, including the towns of Kidal,
Gao, and Timbuktu.
Among the rebels are members of Ansar Dine, a group that wishes
to impose sharia. Amnesty International reports that the group has
asked women in Kidal to wear veils, and has destroyed a nightclub,
the manager of which is now in hiding. In Gao, all the bars have
Nock ag Info Yattara, a Baptist pastor now in Bamako, the
capital of Mali, told CBS News that more than 90 per cent of
Timbuktu's 300 Christians have fled the city since rebels took
control on 2 April. The Mayor of Timbuktu, Ousmane Halle, said:
"What I deplore is the departure of the Christian community. Many
said to me that they are obliged to leave. And they are right. I
cannot guarantee their safety. And these are people that have
lived side by side with us for centuries."
The other main Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the
Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), has distanced itself from "a group
that aims to establish a theocratic regime". It says that its
objective is simply to recover land for the well-being of its
people, in line with the rights of indigenous people. It has
benefited from the return of thousands of its number from Libya,
where they fought for Gaddafi.
The latest fighting in Mali between Tuareg rebels and
government troops began in January, but uprisings started in the
1960s after France hinted that it might permit the formation of an
independent Tuareg state at the time of Mali's independence in
1960. On Saturday, the French foreign ministry said that some of
the grievances of the rebels were justified.
The MNLA announced a ceasefire on 5 April, before declaring
independence for the region of "Azawad" the next day, a claim
rejected by other countries, including those of the African Union,
the European Union, and the United States.
The same bodies have condemned the March coup, led by a
mid-ranking army soldier, Captain Amadou Sanogo, responding with
restrictions on aid and trade. Before the coup, new elections in
Mali had been planned for 29 April. On Wednesday of last week, the
US announced that it was suspending at least $13 million of its
annual $140 million of aid to Mali, and the regional grouping the
Economic Community of West African States imposed sanctions. Aid
agencies immediately warned that the measures would worsen the
threat of food shortages in a country where 40 per cent of
essential goods come from abroad.
Tearfund's programme co-ordinator for Mali, Cath Candish, said
that the conflict had had a "devastating impact", and had
disrupted markets and supply chains in a country where food
prices were already escalating.
The United Nations has called for $1 billion to address the food
crisis in the Sahel region of Africa, which includes Mali, but only
40 per cent of this had been raised by 28 March. It has warned that
more than 15 million people are affected by worsening food
shortages and malnutrition brought on by the continuing drought,
which has been compounded by conflict and insecurity.
Christian Aid's Mali country manager, Yacouba Kone, said that
the lack of access to the north by relief and development agencies
had worsened the already fragile economic and humanitarian
conditions faced by the population.
"The situation is becoming desperate, owing to frequent power
cuts, and the scarcity of portable, clean water. In many districts
of Bamako and other towns, people are now forced to drink water
from the river Niger, which is highly polluted."
Thousands of Malian families have fled the conflict to the
neighbouring countries of Niger, Burkino Faso, and Mauritania.
Action on Hunger, reports that 20 per cent have at least one child
suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Niger is also dealing
with the return of 10,000 of its own people from Nigeria, where
they fear bomb attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
On Sunday, 39 people were killed in Kano, northern Nigeria,
after a car bomb exploded. The driver was heading towards the All
Nations Christians Assembly Church in Kaduna, but was turned away
by a security guard. The bomb then exploded in the road. An
estimated 12 people were killed immediately, but the number of
dead and injured continued to rise in the aftermath of the blast.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The next day, suspected members of Boko Haram shot dead a
policeman and his six-year-old daughter in Yobe state. Two other
people were killed in the state of Borno .