Leaders to meet on Mali intervention

2012-11-08 19:53
An Ansar Dine rebel. (File, AFP)

An Ansar Dine rebel. (File, AFP)

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Bamako - West African heads of state will meet in Abuja on Sunday to adopt a plan for their troops to recapture northern Mali from radical Islamists, the grouping said in a statement on Thursday.

Negotiations with one of the extremist groups Ansar Dine are underway in Burkina Faso, where they have been joined by a delegation fresh from talks in the Algerian capital.

Facing a potentially violent ouster, the group, which has occupied key cities such as Timbuktu for seven months, has called for dialogue and a halt to hostilities.

Former Guinean transition leader General Sekouba Konate, who is supervising the preparation of the military intervention, also arrived in Ouagadougou on Thursday to meet chief regional mediator President Blaise Compaore.

He is expected to raise "questions linked to the juxtaposition of the military intervention and the ongoing dialogue," a source in the Burkinabe presidency said.

Warning

Ansar Dine spokesperson Mohamed Ag Aharid on Wednesday warned in Ouagadougou that any military intervention in Mali would "set the region ablaze".

Once approved by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) leaders, the military blueprint "will then be transmitted through the African Union, before 15 November, to the UN Security Council".

The Security Council on 12 October approved a resolution urging Ecowas to speed up preparations for a military intervention to help recapture northern Mali. It gave Ecowas until 26 November to clarify its plans.

The Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution giving the green light for the deployment of troops once it has studied the intervention plan.

The military strategy was drawn up with the help of experts from the Europeon Union, AU, UN and the region and adopted by Ecowas army chief on Tuesday.

The details of the plan have not been made public, but army sources say over 4 000 troops could be sent into Mali, whose vast arid north has been occupied by al Qaeda-linked extremists for seven months.

Clarity wanted

The UN wants clarification on the composition of the proposed force as well as financial and military means.
The Ecowas statement said the bloc's military brass has asked for a planning committee to be set up to "refine the harmonised plan" and organise a donors conference.

Mali, once one of the region's most stable democracies, rapidly imploded after a coup in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had re-launched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict sharia law.

Chaos

Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) have cracked down on local populations, stoning unmarried couples, amputating thieves' hands and whipping drinkers and smokers.

The crisis has displaced about 200 000 Malians inside the country, while as many have fled to neighbouring states, according to the UN.

The Islamists' ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) which has long been present in Mali's north, have triggered fears in the region and the west that the zone could become a haven for radicals.

Regional security sources have warned that scores of French citizens or Africans living in Europe were trying to get to northern Mali and sign up with the jihadists. Several have been arrested or turned back at the Niger border.

A jihadist described as "French-African" and two Arabs arrested on Tuesday in the centre of Mali allegedly seeking to join the armed extremists, were transferred to Bamako on Thursday.

A source close to the investigation reported he was travelling on false documents and freely expressed his wish to "die a martyr. He also said several other soldiers of Islam in France were preparing to come to northern Mali".

Read more on:    ecowas  |  al-qaeda  |  ansar dine  |  mali  |  west africa
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