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Christians in north of Mali flee Tuareg rebels’ control

11 April 2012

“One Mali, indivisible”: women from the north of Mali march in a rally in Bamako, on Tuesday, in opposition to the partition of their nation AP

“One Mali, indivisible”: women from the north of Mali march in a rally in Bamako, on Tuesday, in opposition to the partition of their nation AP

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 warned.

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 been destroyed.


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 .

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