File picture: A Malian family fleeing unrest in the rebel-held northeastern city of Gao waits for transport after arriving by bus in the capital Bamako.
File picture: A Malian family fleeing unrest in the rebel-held northeastern city of Gao waits for transport after arriving by bus in the capital Bamako.

Islamists mine Gao

By John Irish and Tiemoko Diallo Time of article published Jul 3, 2012

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Paris/Bamako - France said on Tuesday the U.N. Security Council was discussing a new resolution to curb unrest in Mali after al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine said they had mined the outskirts of a town in the north of the country to prevent residents from leaving.

“A new resolution is being discussed at the United Nations and we are hopeful that it will be adopted,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after a meeting with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

“That would enable our African friends to take a series of decisions and base themselves on international legality.”

Once regarded as a good example of African democracy, Mali was plunged into chaos in March after soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels from the north to seize nearly two thirds of the country.

Ansar Dine and allies such as MUJWA, the al Qaeda splinter group, appropriated that separatist uprising and now control two-thirds of Mali's desert north which includes the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu where historic and religious sites have been destroyed in recent days.

Mali's neighbours are seeking U.N. backing for military intervention to stabilise the country. In June, the Security Council asked African nations to explain more precisely what kind of resolution they want.

A French diplomatic source said it was too early to say when the text would be presented to Security Council members however.

After three days of attacks on historic and religious landmarks in Timbuktu that UNESCO has called “wanton destruction”, an Ansar Dine militant confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday that the group had mined the outskirts of Gao.

“The population in Gao has been taken hostage,” Bernard Valero, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said separately. “Within the context of war and a food crisis, mines appear to have been laid around the city to prevent people from leaving. This in our eyes is an act of terrorism.”

Former colonial ruler France has said it would be ready to help restore stability in Mali if there was a U.N. resolution, but has stopped short of promising to intervene directly.

Mali's government in the capital Bamako about 1,000 km (630 miles) south has condemned the attacks, but is powerless to halt them after its army was routed by rebels in April. It is still struggling to bolster a return to civilian rule after a March 22 coup that emboldened the rebel uprising further north.

Tuareg spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid told French i-Tele TV station that the MNLA would launch “total war” on the terrorists and was planning an offensive against the northern cities that are controlled by the Islamists.

“We are launching an S.O.S. to the international community to help us. If it doesn't, then it will be responsible,” he said.

If foreign forces tried to intervene it would lead to carnage as they didn't know the territory, he warned, saying they should work with the Tuaregs if they chose to intervene.

“Our worst enemy are the terrorists. With those in Bamako we can find areas of understanding,” he said. “Today we ask the international community and Mali to put our forces together to fight terrorism.” - Reuters

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