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Fix Mali political crisis first: ICG

2012-07-18 16:59

Dakar - Any efforts to tackle the crisis in Mali must focus on rebuilding a central state authority before trying to recapture northern desert zones now mainly in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, the International Crisis Group said.

Foreign powers should resist mounting pressure for a military operation to tackle the north as any such move underestimated the complexity of the situation and risked fomenting "terrorism" and ethnic conflict, the think tank warned in a report released on Wednesday.

Former colonial power France said last week that military intervention in Mali was "probable", and neighbour Niger has led African calls for swift action to prevent extremist groups, including al-Qaeda and Nigeria's Boko Haram, from consolidating their positions across the Sahara-Sahel band.

"It is urgent and necessary to restore the political, institutional and security foundations of the central state prior to working towards the north's reintegration into the republic," ICG said.

Mali, once seen as one of West Africa's most stable nations, has imploded since a March coup removed the country's president weeks before elections were due, a move that accelerated the fall of the north to a mix of secular and Islamist rebels.

The military has officially ceded power, but still meddles in politics, weakening an already fragile transitional government and complicating foreign efforts to rebuild the armed forces to reunite the country.

Having outgunned and outmanoeuvred their former secular allies, the north is now held mainly by Islamist groups, most notably Ansar Dine which is linked to al-Qaeda and has imposed Islamic law in territories under its control.

"The prospects of a negotiated solution to the crisis are receding with the consolidation of hardline Islamist power in the north and a continued political, institutional and security vacuum in Bamako," ICG said.