The northern two-thirds of Mali is now under control of Tuareg
and Islamist rebels who want to redraw national boundaries and
export revolution. Displaced minorities tell of brutality.
Here in Mali's capital city, after a military coup, it's not
entirely clear who is in charge.
Mali's elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, has been thrown
out of power by mid-ranking officers. Those officers have put in
place a politician, Dioncounda Traore, who was promptly beaten by
civilian protesters in his own palace and is now seeking medical
treatment in France. The coup leaders, in the meantime, have
promised to hand over power to a civilian government once elections
have been held, although they have not given a timeline yet.
Up north, however, there is no question who is in charge.
With the May 26 announcement of an independent state of Azawad,
two rebel groups -- the salafist group Ansar Eddine, and the ethnic
Tuareg group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of
Azawad -- Mali's three vast regions of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao, are
now effectively out of Bamako's reach. And while many experts had
predicted the philosophies of these two groups would keep them at
odds -- Ansar seeks a theocracy based on Islamic sharia law, while
the MNLA seeks an independent state for ethnic Tuaregs -- there is
little sign of competition, and many signs of consolidation.
For Mali's neighbors, some of whom have their own ethnic
insurgencies and Islamist rebel groups to contend with, and for aid
groups, who had already been warning about a looming food crisis in
Mali, this is the worst-case scenario. With two-thirds of Mali's
territory now either ungoverned or under the control of groups who
seek to redraw national boundaries and to export revolution, the
March 22 coup in Mali has given West Africa its own Afghanistan or
Somalia, a no-go zone for aid groups and a haven for extremist
groups to govern their own affairs, train and arm themselves, and
prepare the next revolution across the border.
On Tuesday, the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) condemned the formation of Azawad.
"ECOWAS strongly condemns this opportunistic move, which will
only worsen the plight of the populations already suffering
atrocities and deprivation in the occupied Malian territory, and
further threaten regional peace and security," ECOWAS said in a
Ansar Eddine, which is said to have two distinct jihadist groups -
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity
and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) - has been hoisting black banners
similar to those used by the Islamic State of Iraq at the height of
Iraq's Sunni insurgency in Baghdad. Ansar says that it seeks not to
secede from the Malian republic but to create a theocratic state.
Mali's Tuareg guerrillas -- who have fought several rebellions
since Mali gained its independence from French rule in 1960 -- began
the current bout of rebellion in mid-January with weapons and
vehicles taken from the crumbling Qaddafi regime. …