Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mali Installs Interim President Dioncounda Traore; Famine May Spread Throughout the Region

Mali Installs New President

5:52pm EDT
By Tiemoko Diallo and David Lewis

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Former parliament speaker Dioncounda Traore took over as Mali's interim president on Thursday from the leaders of last month's coup, promising to hold elections and fight rebels occupying half the country.

Traore, 70, a labor activist turned politician, was sworn in by Supreme Court President Nouhoum Tapily in the capital Bamako as part of a deal to restore civilian rule after army officers staged a March 22 coup in the West African state.

The coup shattered predominantly Muslim Mali's image as one of the most peaceful and stable states in the region.

Triggered by army anger over the previous civilian government's failure to tackle a Tuareg-led rebellion in the north, it backfired spectacularly, allowing the rebels to advance and declare a northern separatist homeland. Al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters are among the occupying rebels.

With residents and U.N. rights experts reporting killings, rapes and looting on the rise in rebel-seized northern towns, there are fears of the vast northern territory becoming a lawless and destabilizing "rogue state" in West Africa.

"We will never negotiate the partition of Mali," Traore said at his inauguration. He promised to organize "free and transparent elections" over the whole of the national territory.

Former President Amadou Toumani Toure, deposed by last month's coup, resigned to facilitate the transition deal. The military junta also released Toure's former foreign minister and other cabinet members it had held in custody since the coup.

"I am president of a country that loves peace," Traore said, wearing the presidential sash over a dark suit. But he acknowledged he was the leader of a nation "cut in two".

He called on the rebels to pull back from the northern towns they occupied, which include the desert trading post and seat of Islamic learning Timbuktu and the garrison town of Gao.

"We prefer peace, but if war is the only way out, we will wage it," Traore said. "Long live Mali, one and indivisible!"

He said the effort to recover Mali's territorial integrity would expel "invaders bringing desolation and misery" which he identified as al Qaeda, drug-traffickers and hostage-takers.


But there were no immediate signs that Mali's army, weakened by the putsch, was readying any significant offensive against the rebels, whose ranks were swelled by arms and Tuareg soldiers who had served slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The 15-state ECOWAS grouping of West African countries, which pressured the Bamako coup leaders to give up power, is preparing an intervention force of up to 3,000 troops. But it has said its mandate is to prevent further rebel advances rather than win back lost territory. Former colonial power France has offered logistical support but not troops.

In Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed what he called the "constitutional restoration" in Mali and said he was discussing with West African leaders how to deal with the rebel-occupied north.

"We sincerely hope this will be resolved as quickly as possible so that the Malian people will really enjoy their genuine freedom and stability and also development," he said.

The African Union also welcomed the restoration of a civilian president, while ordinary Malians seemed relieved.

"He has to show what he is capable of," said Bamako resident Youssouf Ndiaye.

Traore is not expected to have enough time to organize credible elections in the 40 days allotted to him by the constitution.

Tiebile Drame, head of PARENA, one of the Malian political parties that led opposition to the coup, said talks between Malian political actors were expected in Burkina Faso over the weekend. It was hoped this could lead to the naming of a prime minister over the weekend and a government next week.

But Drame saw little prospect of quick progress on the military front against the rebels. "Everybody knows it is not possible to conduct a war in 40 days, especially with the state of our army," he said. "We are a collapsed state."


U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned reported violations being committed against civilians after the coup and rebel advance. She said the situation risked worsening a grave humanitarian crisis already affecting the drought-plagued Sahel region, now awash with refugees.

"Reports from the north of the country suggest that civilians have been killed, robbed, raped and forced to flee," Pillay said in a statement released by her office in Geneva.

There have been reports of Islamist rebels seeking to apply sharia, Islamic law, among the local population, shutting down bars and ordering women to cover their heads. Other reports have spoken of looting and gun-toting, turban-wearing fighters roaming the streets, forcing many non-Tuaregs to flee the north.

Pillay said human rights violations, including illegal arrests, poor conditions of detention and attempts to restrict the right to freedom of expression, have also been reported in Bamako in the wake of the military takeover.

Separatist leaders have declared a secular Tuareg homeland of "Azawad" in an area bigger than France in northern Mali - a secession bid so far snubbed by the world.

The separatist rebels have distanced themselves from their Islamist comrades-in-arms, who say they want to apply sharia across all of Mali.

(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra in Bamako and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Pascal Fletcher and Mark John; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Mali crisis raises West Africa famine threat
Canada can help by co-ordinating donors, Oxfam says

By Laura Payton
CBC News
Apr 12, 2012 12:48 PM ET

The threat of famine across West Africa is getting worse with the political crisis in Mali, experts and aid workers said Thursday, urging the Canadian government to co-ordinate a response from other countries.

Canada should call together an international forum to pledge money for the region, and make sure the money is delivered, Oxfam Canada's executive director Robert Fox said.

Canada has credibility on the international stage and can play that role, he said, "to ensure that we don’t have in West Africa what we saw last year in East Africa, where millions of people were moved from being vulnerable to in fact being in a situation of deep hunger and starvation."

Canada has already promised $41 million in funding for the region, Fox said. The money is for pre-positioning supplies and to reduce the impact of the drought that hit the area.

A spokesman for International Co-Operation Minister Bev Oda said the Canadian International Development Agency is monitoring the situation.

The political crisis in Mali, that saw a military coup in the capital and Tuareg rebels declaring independence in the country's north, is worsening an already precarious situation because Mali's food reserves aren't accessible, and the borders are closed, said Mamadou Goïta.

At the same time, people migrating to find work or food are making the situation worse in neighbouring countries. Goïta is a socio-economist who works for an organization that represents West African farmers and peasants.

"We know also that Mali has, between the Sahel countries, the biggest reserve of food in terms of capacity to afford some of the supply to Niger or Mauritania," he said.

"Because of the coup ... there was no movement of population, also products, between Mali and these countries."

Food prices shot up when Mali's border closed, he said.

"In addition to the crisis that is happening in the country, neighbouring countries are facing consequences.

A news release from Oxfam says food shortages, price hikes, and other factors are threatening the lives of 15 million people in the Sahel region that includes Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia.

Food crisis looms

Aid groups have been warning for months that unusually small rainfall in the region could lead to a crisis like the one last summer in the Horn of Africa, made up of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya.

Acting early costs less than waiting for the situation to get worse, Oxfam says.

But getting countries to follow through on their pledges is a major problem.

G8 countries pledged $20 billion U.S. support over three years at a 2009 donors conference in L'Aquila, Italy, but it hasn't all been put to work.

"I’m not sure that today those $20 billion have been already mobilized and was new money and arrived on the ground," said Eric Hazard, a Senegal-based Oxfam International co-ordinator.

Donor countries will meet in November, 2012, to look at the results, he added.

"But I think that between the promise and the translation of this promise into realities is the big question."

Goïta also asked for help enhancing the capacity of small-scale farmers. Sixty per cent of the population in Mali works in small-scale farming, Hazard said, but much of the private sector investment goes to large agri-business.

The Oxfam visitors are also meeting officials at CIDA, the news release said.

Mali is one of the countries on which CIDA focuses its aid spending, contributing $110 million in 2010-11, but Canada suspended aid to the country on March 26 after the coup.

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