Mali: regime, rebels both divided

Mali's prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was forced to resign on state television Dec. 11 after junta troops arrested him for attempting to leave the country. President Dioncounda Traoré appeared on TV to appoint Django Cissoko, a French-educated university professor and presidential aide, as interim prime minister. Diarra's ouster was a show of force by a military that staged a coup in March, just as rebels were seizing the country's desert north. Following his arrest, Diarra was taken to a meeting with coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo, where he was accused both of failing to retake the north and of scheming to to disrupt talks now underway with the rebels.

At the talks, being brokered by regional bloc ECOWAS in neighboring Burkina Faso, two mutually hostile factions agreed to "observe a cessation of hostilities"—although neither is currently engaged in hostilities, either with the government or each other. The two factions are the jihadist Ansar Dine and the Tuareg nationalist MNLA. A second jihadist group that controls wide swaths of the north, MUJAO, is absent from the talks. On Dec. 6, the UN Security Council placed MUJAO under sanctions as a front for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The UN statement also charged: "The MUJAO's leaders are known to be drug traffickers, involved in the drug trade in the Sahel." Malian Minister for African Integration Traore Rokiatou Guikine told the Security Council: "The daily suffering of the occupied Malian people is well known: there are floggings, amputation of limbs, summary executions, children forced to become soldiers, rapes, stoning, looting and the destruction of cultural and historic sites." (Jurist, Dow Jones, Dec. 11; Magharebia, Dec. 7 via AllAfricaAFP, Dec. 5)

Ironically, the worst destruction of cultural and historic sites (the Sufi shrines of Timbuktu) has been at the hands not of MUJAO but Ansar Dine, which controls the historic city. And harsh sharia law continues to be enforced in the city.

Timbuktu residents reported Nov. 29 that Islamist forces publicly whipped six young people, males and females aged between 16 to 22 years, who each received 100 lashes for having talked with each other on the city streets. The head of the Islamist brigade responsible for customs in Timbuktu, Mohamed ag-Mossa Intoulou, did not deny the whippings when contacted by AP but said he did not have authorization to speak to the press. (AP, Nov. 29)