Ban Ki-moon cautions as Mali insurgents flee

01 February 2013

REUTERS

Cast aside: a Malian soldier walks away from a cross believed to have been removed by Islamist rebels from the church seen in the background, in the recently liberated town of Diabaly, last week

Cast aside: a Malian soldier walks away from a cross believed to have been removed by Islamist rebels from the church seen in the background, in the...

THE Islamist insurgency in Mali is "melting" as French-led efforts to restore the unity of the country gain traction. But the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has warned that security gains must be matched by political progress in a country that is blighted by a "toxic mix of poverty, extreme climatic conditions, weak institutions, drug smuggling, and the easy availability of deadly weapons".

On Sunday, Reuters reported that French and Malian troops had begun to restore government control over Timbuktu, after they seized the town of Gao on Saturday. The mayor of Timbuktu said on Monday that, on fleeing the town, the Islamists had set fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library housing documents that date back to the 13th century.

On Tuesday, the French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for international monitors to come to Mali to ensure that human rights were not abused, after reports of revenge attacks on people suspected of collaborating with the insurgents. The Times reported on Wednesday that a teenage boy had been beaten to death in Timbuktu.

On the same day, the British Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed that 350 military personnel would be sent to Mali and West Africa to support French forces. None of them would play a part in the combat: "We are very clear about the risks of mission creep."

The French intervention appears to have been largely welcomed in Mali. On Thursday of last week, the head of the High Islamic Council in Bamako, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, told the French newspaper La Croix that the French intervention had protected Mali from "those who want to . . . impose on us their way of practising Islam".

Imam Dicko said that it was important to distinguish between Malians, with whom dialogue must be sought, and foreigners, who must be expelled. Christians and Muslims had always enjoyed "friendly relations" and attacks on churches were committed by Muslims from outside Mali, he said.

Also on Thursday, Mr Ban told the World Economic Forum at Davos that the situation in Mali was "at heart a political challenge requiring political solutions". The UN is calling for a "broad reconciliation process that strengthens the foundations for national co-hesion in Mali".

Christian Aid warned last Fri- day that the conflict in Mali was exacerbating a "chronic food crisis" in the Sahel, affecting 18 million people (News, 24 February, 2012). The charity is providing emergency aid through partnerships with Malian organisations in regions affected by the violence.

Helen Blakesley, of Catholic Relief Services, who is working in Bamako, said that tens of thousands of people, some with "major health needs", had fled to the capital to stay with relatives or host families, often in "really overcrowded conditions". The charity is supporting 4000 vulnerable displaced people in the city - a number that is expected to increase.

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