Frustrated Malians threaten to go it alone against Al Qaeda

AFP , Saturday 8 Dec 2012

A growing number of Malians, including in the military, feel abandoned by the international community and are advocating unilateral action to reclaim the north from Islamist militia if foreign armies are too slow to the rescue

The Maian transitional government in Bamako which still has control over Mali's southern half made a fresh appeal to the United Nations Security Council on December 5 for a 3,300-strong regional standby force to intervene.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon however gave a lukewarm response, arguing that a more detailed plan was needed for the Security Council to give its backing and that talks should be given a chance.

The UN's peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and the world body's special envoy to the Sahel region have both warned that any deployment was unlikely for another nine months.

Some Malians however -- be they government officials, military planners, fighters or simple residents of the impoverished desert north where Al Qaeda-linked groups are enforcing an extreme form of Islamic law -- are losing patience.

"In any case, at one point, the Malian army will have to do what it has to do. Preparations are already afoot for us to take our fate into our own hands," a high-ranking defence ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

That feeling is shared by some of the Malian troops on the ground, where the only fighting to have taken place in recent months was a few skirmishes between the Islamists and rival secular rebel groups.

"All we are waiting for are orders from the political echelon to march on the north," a Malian soldier said from his base in Sevare, a town near Mopti and just south of the dividing line.

Western powers Mali's north could become what Afghanistan was to Al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks but diplomats say Washington has been reluctant to throw its weight behind a fully-fledged African intervention.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, its offshoot the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine enjoyed a weapons bonanza after when Moamer Kadhafi scattered his arsenal across the region in his fall.

Mali's army is still licking its wounds after a March coup that, however short-lived and half-hearted, toppled the regime and left one of western Africa's most promising democracies in tatters.

While the military odds would seem to favour battle-hardened rebels who have reportedly been reinforced by hundreds of foreign fighters, some people in Mali argue a unilateral offensive could spur the world into action.

"The liberation of the north is chiefly our own army's responsibility. Let the army launch operations and you'll see how the United Nations will change tack," said Lassana Traore, a young resident of Bamako's Magnambougou neighbourhood.

"Ban Ki-moon doesn't live on the same planet as us. When I hear that we should wait until September 2013 for anything to happen, that makes me sick," he said.

Residents of the north -- where Islamist fighters have flogged, amputated and sometimes executed sharia violators -- are even more eager to see an end to diplomatic palaver and a start to military operations.

"I am furious at the international community. I wonder if they understand the full extent of the people's suffering here," said Mohamed Toure, a resident of the city of Timbuktu, which is under the control of group called Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).

On Saturday, around 1,000 people marched through the streets of Bamako to demand swift international action.

"We cannot allow half of our country to remain in the hands of criminals. The international community must understand that and help Mali," said one of the demonstrators, student Hamadoun Diallo.

The authorities have launched a December 1-10 campaign aimed at enlisting 2,000 new recruits to fight in the north and more than 4,000 had already signed up by Saturday.

Armoured vehicles that Mali had bought under the ousted regime of Amadou Amani Toure and had been blocked in Guinea by regional bloc ECOWAS as a result of the coup were finally delivered in Bamako this month, to cheers from local residents.

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