Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
Kina, Mali -
With Islamic extremists occupying the north of Mali, the nation's army is reinforcing its frontline but national pride makes some soldiers dismissive of help from outside troops.
Although west African bloc ECOWAS has suggested deploying troops to help the Malians, several army sources told AFP they prefer to rely first on their own troops to chase out the jihadists.
“You have to understand the pride of Malians. We can be poor and proud and refuse everything that could be seen as domination,” said Mamadou Traore, an official at the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Adema) party of interim president Dioncounda Traore.
“If there are forces that must come to Mali, then have them come directly here to the frontline” at Mopti, the last area controlled by the government before the Islamist-occupied north, said one soldier in the small Mopti town of Kona who wished to remain anonymous.
Once one of the region's most stable democracies, Mali has crumbled into despair since President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown by the military in March.
The ensuing political turmoil allowed al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels to wrest control of the vast desert north, an area larger than France or Texas, where they have enforced strict sharia law.
The new government was formed after an order from Economic Community of West African States mediators, who have undertaken efforts to resolve the crisis.
But while ECOWAS has offered military assistance, soldiers deployed to the central region of Mopti say they agree with Malian authorities' decision to disallow troops from the West African bloc from landing in Bamako.
The option of a military intervention from a 3 300-strong ECOWAS standby force has been on the table for months but “very little” has been done to implement this, Mali's Defence Minister Yamoussa Camara admitted recently.
The United Nations has asked for more information on the size, means and plans of the proposed force before granting it a mandate.
Mali itself is meanwhile seeking to strengthen its forces in the region. About 120 soldiers are expected to arrive on the frontline in Mopti while two Mi-24 combat helicopters have also been acquired.
Tanks and other material are also on their way to landlocked Mali after Guinea lifted an earlier blocade, and a new operational military post has also been set up in Sevare outside Mopti.
The head of the military unit, Colonel Didier Dacko, reinforced it with several dozen transport vehicles and said he is ready to show that “the Malian is a proud man who loves his country.”
“Our men need to avenge the affront,” said Mohamed Sokolo, a school principal from Mopti.
“They were forced to retreat in the face of advancing Tuareg rebels and Islamists. The people have not forgotten. It's now up to our troops to rise to the challenge,” he added. - Sapa-AFP