Photo: AP Photo
In the past two weeks in northern Mali, an unwed couple accused of of having children were stoned to death and a man accused of stealing had his hand chopped off, reports the NY Times. These acts, both done in public, follow the capture of about 60% of Mali’s overall territory, a region called Azawad, by a separatist movement with links to al-Qaeda. And to many, they’re just getting started.
Early in the year, there was a coup of the Mali government by soldiers upset with its failure to control the rebellious north. By the time the coup relinquished power to an interim government though, the country was already split into two, Ansar Dine, an Islamist group, and MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), a more secular organisation of indigenous ethnic Tuaregs, joining together to firmly seize control of the northern territories.
Before long, the MNLA and Ansar Dine found themselves at odds. Ansar Dine wanted strict, Islamic Sharia law while the MNLA wanted a more secularized rule. Fighting ensued and Ansar Dine prevailed, driving the MNLA out and taking control with the help of groups such as AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and MUJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa).
Now, much of northern Mali finds itself under the control of Ansar Dine and the rule of Sharia law. Their plan is to eventually turn Mali into an Islamic state. In cities including Timbuktu, there are reports of adulterers being stoned, thieves being mutilated, and women being forced to wear veils when in public. In addition, reports have surfaced of Ansar Dine members destroying World Heritage sites, according to AFP. More than 400,000 have already fled the area, forming camps in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, reports Al Jazeera.
Worse still, are reports that the area could become a safe haven for terrorism.
Reactions by the West have begun, President Obama halting all military and other assistance to the nation, amounting to about $140 million per year. Food aid, however, will continue. Condemnation by the UN has also followed, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon calling for the Security Council to enact travel and financial sanctions against the rebels, reports Al Jazeera.
In addition, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, is waiting for UN backing before it deploys its 3,300 troops into the region. But before this can happen, the UN wants a formal request for said action from the interim government in the south, as well as information about the “size, means, and mandate of the proposed force”, the AFP reports .
Concrete plans, and subsequent action, may come soon though. Today, the beginning of a five day meeting including representatives from ECOWAS, the EU, African Union, UN, and Malian government begins in Bamako, Mali’s capital.
Meanwhile, Mali’s government is watching the situation — and suggesting that military action is “inevitable”.
“Every day, while efforts for a negotiated solution are increasing, the practices of terrorists and drug traffickers cloaked in a false religious veil lend weight to the inevitable nature of the military option,” a statement released yesterday read.
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