News24

African ministers discuss Sahel terrorism

2012-03-20 21:21

Bamako - African foreign ministers met in Bamako on Tuesday to discuss the woes plaguing the Sahel strip, including the Islamist rebellion in north Mali fuelled by the return of fighters from Libya.

"The Sahel is confronted with multiple challenges: Terrorism, cross-border crime," said Jean Ping, president of the African Union Commission.

"An already difficult situation has been aggravated by the crisis in Libya" from where armed fighters have returned to their home countries in the region.

Meeting host Mali has been one of the worst-affected by the return of armed Tuareg who have taken up a decades-long battle for independence in the north of the country.

Ping said the meeting of the 15 ministers on the AU peace and security council provided an opportunity to look at ways to resolve the Malian crisis, just weeks before presidential elections are due in the country.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure said his country was "experiencing great difficulty" as a result of the return of the armed Tuareg "who are fighting alongside armed Islamists and drug traffickers".

The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) formed late last year launched a rebellion in the north in mid-January demanding independence for their nomadic desert tribe.

Shari'ah law

The fighting has displaced nearly 200 000 people in the country and left scores dead.

In recent weeks an armed Islamist group called Ancar Dine has become increasingly vocal, demanding the imposition of Shari'ah law across Mali.

The group on Tuesday declared it had seized control of the country's vast north-east.

Ancar Dine, "Defenders of Islam" in Arabic, was created by Iyad Ag Ghaly, one of the most prominent figures of a Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s.

He is thought to have links with a branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a splinter group which is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama.

An MNLA leader told AFP the two groups were both battling the national government, but said its objective was not religious and if Ancar Dine insisted on imposing shari'ah "we will go our separate ways."