Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rebels in Mali Capture Key Cities

Malians and the world have watched with surprise as three major cities in northern Mali fell to rebels in just the past few days. But a soldier just back from the front lines says the swift advance by Tuareg separatists should be a surprise to no one, given the state of the Malian army.

Corruption and deception at the highest levels of government and the military left front-line soldiers nearly defenseless, a soldier just back from northern Mali told VOA. He says he saw combat in several towns, including Ménaka, Tessalit, and most recently Gao, home of the army’s largest northern base, which fell to the Tuareg rebels on Saturday.
 A follow up story reports:
The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of people in northern Mali continue to flee their homes because of insecurity and political instability. The UNHCR is expressing deep concern about the crisis, which is getting worse as Mali coup leaders lose control of the north to Tuareg rebels.

The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 2,000 Malians have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the past five days. It says the north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said refugees pouring into neighboring countries report that local communities are using armed militiamen and home guard units to defend themselves from attacking marauders.

“They are telling us that they are fleeing because of generalized violence, but also mayhem in these towns and cities is increasing, the numbers of armed robbers, of instability. They are also reporting lack of food," said Fleming. "They are reporting steep price rises and are just really concerned about sustaining themselves. But, also, they are telling us that they had hopes that this coup might bring peace to the country and when they saw that this was falling apart, they decided to leave.”

Things have gone badly wrong for the military leaders of Mali since they mounted a political coup in the capital, Bamako on March 22. The rebel soldiers said they ousted the elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, because he left the army poorly equipped to fight the Tuareg rebels in the north.

However, since the coup, the rebels have captured the strategic town of Kidal, the garrison town of Gao and just a few days ago, the ancient, mythic town of Timbuktu.
 I find it interesting that the Mali soldier in the photograph above is using a Chinese Type 56 assault rifle.

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