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.
The government of Mali is now confirmed to be holding direct talks with two of rebel groups that seized control in the country's north, in a bid to resolve the country's political crisis and head off foreign intervention. Top government officials gathered in neighboring Burkina Faso Dec. 4 for preliminary talks with delegates from the MNLA Tuareg separatist group and the radical Islamist organization Ansar Dine. But meanwhile in Washington DC, the chief of the Pentagon's Africa Command, Gen. Carter F. Ham, warned that rebel-controlled northern Mali has become a staging area for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). "As each day goes by, al-Qaeda and other organizations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali," Gen. Ham said in remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. "There is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that." (VOA, Dec. 4; NYT, Dec. 3)
As Islamist miltias have established Taliban-like rule in northern Mali since taking the vast territory in March, regional powers have been muddling towards military intervention. On Nov. 21, Reuters reported that "military experts from Africa, the United Nations and Europe have drafted plans to retake control of northern Mali." We are told that "African leaders will this month seek a UN mandate to send a mainly West African force of some 4,000 to Mali to...back military operations to retake swathes of the Sahara desert from rebels." Quoted is Stephen O'Brien, the UK's first special envoy to the Sahel, speaking from Nigeria: "This deep insecurity... we have to recognize that, unless it is checked and it is not met, then it will have the potential for export." He called the Mali crisis was "a universal threat" with "the capability of threatening interests outside the...region." While no other European countries are mentioned, we may assume that France will play a leading role.
We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in Mali ever since April, when Tuareg rebels seized power in the north, only to be shortly overthrown themselves by an alliance of jihadist militias. Yeah, this is the middle of the Sahara, but how long is the "international community" going to allow an unrecognized extremist-controlled rogue state the size of France to persist? The jihadists continue to up the proverbial ante. Over the weekend, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) advanced into Mopti region, south of rebel-held Timbuktu, seizing the town of Douentza. (See map.) Unbelievably, it appears that this border zone on the edge of the vast rebel territory has been abandoned by the government, and the town was defended only by a local militia, the Ganda Iso (Sons of the Land)—one of several that the region's residents have been organizing autonomously to defend against jihadist aggression or (much more ambitiously) to eventually take back the north. MUJAO also made good on their threat to put to death an Algerian vice consul they had abducted. Mali's government this week reportedly made a formal request for military intervention to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but is apparently refusing to confirm this to its own people, making no mention of it in state media. (AP, Sept. 7; Middle East Online, Sept. 3; MEO, Sept. 2; AFP, Aug. 31)
Mali's military said Aug. 14 that troops from the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) could assist in a campaign to take back the country's north from Islamist rebels, but would not be allowed in the capital, Bamako. "There is no question of soldiers from ECOWAS bloc in Bamako but [they could send] some to the North. We could have 600-800 ECOWAS troops in support of ours," said chief of staff Col. Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele. (Reuters, Aug. 14) One week earlier, Iyad Ag Ghali—leader of Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups in control of the north—met with Burkina Faso's foreign minister, Djibril Bassole, in the northern town of Kidal, and said he is open to mediation efforts to reunite the country. "We are going to work together to find peace,’" Ag Ghali told reporters at Kidal airport.
Hundreds of pastoralists in the Mopti region of central Mali are trapped between floodplains to the south and armed Islamist rebels to the north. The nomadic herders, mostly of the Peulh (Fulani) ethnicity, fear that their way of life faces an imminent end. "It's all over—it's finished," Ibrahim Koita, head of the Society of Social Welfare in Mopti Region, told UN news agency IRIN in the capital, Bamako, where he is trying to pressure donors for more aid. Pastoralists from the northern regions of Adara, Azawad, Tiilenis and Gourma generally head to southern Mali, and into Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast or as far as Togo in search of pasture before the rainy season, which lasts from June to October. Once the rains arrive, they move north again to avoid the Middle Niger Delta flood zone, finding renewed pasturelands on the edge of the desert. But at the end of July, pasture had yet to appear in the north.
Amnesty International warned after a visit to Mali July 31 that the country is slipping into "human rights chaos," with abuses documented in the government-controlled south as well as the rebel-held north. Amnesty documented at least one incident in the north in which a couple were stoned to death for pre-marital sex. But in the south, the army has been involved in extra-judicial killings, torture and sexual abuse since staging a coup in March, Amnesty found, demanding an investigation. The military has handed power to a civilian-led interim government, but that government appears to rule at the army's behest. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reports that it has "visited 79 Malian military personnel held by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in the Tinzaouatène area of northeastern Mali." A map indicates that Tinzaouatène is actually just across the border from northern Mali's Kidal region in Algerian territory. All previous reports indicate that MNLA forces have been entirely pushed out of northern Mali by Islamist forces.