Schools reopen in north Mali town after years of conflict

2015-10-22 08:35
File: News24

File: News24

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Kidal - Hundreds of children returned to school in a town in northern Mali this week, a sign that security may be returning after years of conflict involving rival armed groups and Islamist militants.

But some school reopenings were postponed due to anti-government protests and the main teachers' union says its members will not return without army protection.

In one school, students took their places on wooden benches and recited the days of the week in French, ignoring the large bullet holes that had riddled the walls during past shooting.

"It has been about three years that there's been no work and no school. After three years, I'm really happy that everyone, the children, the younger kids, are going back to school," said Aghaly Ag Ousmane, a student.

Kidal, a desert town of earth-built homes, is a stronghold of the separatist Co-ordination of Azawad Movements, a group dominated by ethnic Tuaregs. In 2012, they seized the north with support from militants linked to al-Qaeda.

Peace and development

Nationalist and French forces recaptured the area in 2013 and the United Nations has established a peacekeeping mission. But separatists control Kidal and violence in the region has persisted with attacks by militia groups and radical Islamists.

The schools reopened as two rival Tuareg clans ended a decades-old feud last week and the government said it would commit $175m a year between 2016 and 2018 to supporting a peace agreement it signed in June with the separatists.

"After the difficulties experienced with running a school due to the conflicts, we are all grateful for the initiatives taken to encourage the return to school," said parent Tita Ag Bacrene.

Three schools in Kidal have reopened so far including one with 647 students.

"We still have more than 10 schools in the north which are occupied [by armed groups]," said Mali representative Fran Equiza for UN children's agency UNICEF, which has donated some equipment. "We can't say for certain than in 3-4 months all will be open."

He added that he hoped the return of teachers and school administrators to Kidal would encourage other national authorities to return to their posts.

France and other OECD countries will host a conference on peace and development in northern Mali on October 22 in Paris.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  mali  |  west africa

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