Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Mali News Update: AU Adds Sanctions to Mali; Thousands Flee Northern Region

African Union adds to sanctions in Mali

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- International pressure built Tuesday for leaders of the military group that seized power last month from Mali's democratically elected president to restore the nation to civilian rule.

The African Union said Tuesday it will impose more sanctions on the country, one day after the Economic Community of West African States slapped the ruling military junta with travel and economic restrictions after last month's coup.

The AU supports the sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS in Mali and "further decided to impose their own sanctions, with asset freezes and travel bans against leaders of the military junta and all those involved in contributing to the 'destabilization' of Mali," said Ramtane Lamamra, commissioner for peace and security.

The AU also condemned recent attacks in the north by Tuarag rebel groups and declared "null and void" any of their statements or demands, adding them and all those involved in attacks in the region to the sanctions imposed.

On Monday, ECOWAS imposed a travel ban on the coup leaders and imposed a diplomatic and financial embargo that regional leaders discussed last week, ECOWAS Chairman Alassane Ouattara said.

"All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others are applicable from today and will not be lifted until the re-establishment of constitutional order," said Ouattara, Ivory Coast's president.

He said ECOWAS leaders will meet again this week in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan to discuss the possible activation of troops from member states.

ECOWAS had given the officers until Monday to hand over power or face sanctions.

Under the sanctions, the five neighboring ECOWAS members will close their borders to landlocked Mali except for humanitarian purposes. Its member states are to deny Mali access to their ports, freeze Mali's accounts in regional banks and suspend Mali's participation in cultural and sporting events.

Hours after ECOWAS' announcement, the U.S. Department of State announced that it was imposing sanctions on travel to the United States on those people "who block Mali's return to civilian rule and a democratically elected government" and on their immediate relatives. Included are "those who actively promote Captain Amadou Sanogo and the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy, who seized power from democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 21," it said in a statement.

The United States released a statement earlier Tuesday in support of the West African states, saying it is "deeply concerned about the ongoing political crisis in Mali."

"We also urge all armed rebels to engage in dialogue with civilian leaders in (the capital city of) Bamako to find a nonviolent path forward for national elections and a peaceful coexistence," said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department.

The department warned U.S. citizens against all travel to the country and authorized the departure of non-emergency personnel and all eligible relatives.

Senou International Airport in Bamako remained open but "the availability of flights in the future is unpredictable and depends on the overall security situation," the department said in a statement.

Before Tuareg and Islamic rebels took control of northern Mali, it had been hailed as a shining example of African democracy, having experienced more than 20 years of democratic government. The impoverished country now has no access to the sea and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

The coup leaders pledged Sunday to hold talks toward the establishment of a transitional government, which they said would organize "peaceful, free open and democratic elections in which we will not participate." But the statement did not specify when the talks or the elections would be held.

"The measures taken by the junta are in the right direction, but are not sufficient," Ouattara said Monday.

Amnesty International has raised concerns about the safety of civilians in the area, citing reports of violence and looting.

The warning came as international pressure increased on the military junta that grabbed power last month in Bamako.

The Tuareg, who seek a separate homeland in northern Mali, announced over the weekend that they had seized control of the northern regional capitals of Timbuktu and Gao, a major blow to the military government. Both towns are hundreds of miles north of Bamako.

"The armed groups who seized these towns in the last three days must ensure human rights abuses do not occur and where they do, they must take action and remove anyone implicated from their ranks," Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty's West Africa researcher, said in a statement on the organization's website.

The Islamist group Ansar Dine seized control of Timbuktu after the military stepped down on Monday, said Yehye Tandina, a broadcaster in the city.

The streets of Timbuktu were quiet Tuesday, though the city was cut off from the rest of the world; shops and banks had been looted. "We are surviving on hope," Tandina said. "In reality, there is nothing in Timbuktu."

Military officers led by Sanogo seized power on March 22, overthrowing President Amadou Toumani Toure. The junta said Toure had failed to properly equip soldiers battling the growing Tuareg insurgency.

Moussa Ag Assarid, a spokesman for the main Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, has said the group now "controls all of northern Mali."

"We are proud and ready to declare our homeland free from the south," he said. "Now the MLNA wants a nation."

Amnesty said it had received reports from witnesses in Gao of armed men looting homes and a hospital.

"The looting must be halted to ensure that the civilian population can safely go about their lives," said Amnesty's Mootoo.

In another northern city, Kidal, residents were fleeing their homes, Amnesty reported. According to the organization, more than 200,000 people had fled the north of Mali since the Tuareg uprising began in January.

Timbuktu was a thriving commercial hub and a center of Islamic scholarship in the 14th and 15th centuries, and it's home to three clay mosques that date back more than 700 years. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization urged the combatants to avoid damage to the sites, which were added to the agency's World Heritage List in 1988.

"UNESCO stands ready to share its expertise and experience to help Mali ensure the safeguarding of Timbuktu," Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement Monday.

CNN's Joseph Netto and Journalists Nick Loomis and Tom Walsh contributed to this report

Tuareg non-combatants flee Mali fighting

03/04 15:43 CET

Many refugees have fled northern Mali for Mauritania. There are some 200,000 like them who have left Mali, going to the countries around it. One of the relatively safe havens is Niger. The danger brought by the Tuareg offensive drove Zoulfa and her four children there.

Zoulfa said: “We are nomads so we move and live in different places. Where we were, in our village, armed men attacked and came to steal our belongings, so we decided to leave. We joined a nomad camp, but we were still attacked.”

The northern Mali region of Azawad is populated by Tuareg tribes who have traditionally moved across borders freely, sometimes over great distances.

These three million people or so live mostly in Mali, speaking one of the Berber languages: Tamachec. They are Sunni Muslims.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) wants to set up an independent secular republic in this part of Mali.

Mauritania-based leader Hama Ag Mahmoud said: “The MNLA does not have any link with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and none with the Islamist group Ansar Dine. They are jihadist movements, Islamist movements. Ours is a secular movement whose ambition is to deal in the best possible way with the interest of Azawad.”

The Tuareg rebels launched their offensive against the Malian Army In mid-January, many of the Tuaregs having fought for Libyan ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi. Previous Tuareg rebellions were put down by Mali. Now sufficiently re-armed, they moved to establish supremacy in Azawad.

But they have to contend with other groups active across this vast expanse, where states have little control over those such as the jihadists of AQIM and Ansar Dine, which is led by a former Tuareg rebel, Iyad Ag Ghaly.

It is feared that the fighting could damage the World Heritage Site of Timbuktu, nearly 1,000 years old. It is home to a unique style of mud and wood architecture, and hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts, including Arabic Islamic writing, science, maths and history, whose knowledge represents a tangible challenge to western misconceptions about this part of Africa.

UNHCR deeply concerned by deteriorating situation in Mali

03 Apr 2012 13:38

GENEVA, April 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it is "deeply concerned" by the deteriorating political and security situation in Mali, where thousands of people continue to flee their homes.

"The north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region," UNHCR's chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said. "Refugees pouring into neighbouring countries are reporting the presence of armed militiamen and home guards units set up by local communities to defend themselves," she added.

Fleming told journalists in Geneva that more than 2,000 people had fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the past five days because of the insecurity and the political instability stemming from the military coup of 22 March in Mali.

Malian refugees have been crossing into Burkina Faso and Mauritania at an average rate of 400 people per day in the past week. The majority of the refugees are Tuaregs, but there are also ethnic Peuls, Arabs and Bambara.

Malians fleeing to Mauritania are mainly from the Timbuktu region, while those heading to Burkina Faso come from Gao and Timbuktu. Most tell UNHCR staff that they fled because they were worried about armed robbers and feared there would be more heavy fighting in the north, while some said they left their homes due to lack of food.

Others told UNHCR teams that they decided to leave Mali when hopes for a negotiated peace between the government and Tuareg rebels in the north faded after the coup. The displacement crisis in Mali began in January after fighting erupted between government troops and the rebels. To date, the violence has uprooted more than 200,000 people, including around 100,000 who have fled the country.

The refugees also tell of armed men taking cars, money and other personal belongings from people fleeing towards Burkina Faso. They say that large numbers of Malians are on the way to Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Meanwhile, the number of Malians crossing into Niger appears to have dropped recently. UNHCR has only heard of one group of 300 people crossing last week into Niger and seeking shelter in the village of Ayrou. UNHCR staff are monitoring the border with local authorities.

"We are stepping up our assistance to Malian refugees across the Sahel region who face acute water and food shortages," Fleming said. "We'd like to reiterate that UNHCR is committed to helping neighbouring countries and host communities which have been providing safety and shelter to the refugees despite these shortages and the difficult conditions."

The influx of large numbers of mostly nomadic refugees and their cattle is straining the limited resources in many arrival areas. We are working with specialized agencies to rehabilitate wells and boreholes across the region to benefit the refugees and host communities.

Of the 200,000 people displaced by the fighting, more than 23,000 have found shelter in Burkina Faso, 46,000 are in Mauritania and a further 25,000 are being hosted in Niger, together with nearly 2,000 Niger nationals who had been living in Mali for decades. More than 93,000 people believed to be internally displaced in Mali.

The situation has worsened since the Tuareg fighters captured several big towns in the north last week, preventing UNHCR and other aid agencies from reaching those in need of assistance. UNHCR is calling on all parties to refrain from any action that could put fleeing populations in danger or hamper their movement to safer areas.

Mali's Tuareg-Uranium Conspiracy

By Moeen Raoof
Global Research, April 3, 2012

The recent Coup in Mali by a Army Officer Captain while all the Generals, Brigadiers, Colonels and Majors are nowhere to be seen or heard should not be seen in isolation or simplistically.

The Tuaregs living in Northern Mali, Northern Niger, Southern Algeria and southern Libya are a Nomadic Pastoral People with no ambitions for statehood, only recognition of their particular culture and freedom to travel without hindrance in the Saharan Region.

The conflict in Libya has had a devastating effect in Niger and Mali where the nomadic Tuareg peoples in the Sahara Desert regions of northern Niger and Mali and southern Libya have been involved in a spate of kidnappings and armed uprisings known as the ‘Tuareg rebellion’. This is especially dangerous for northern Niger in and around the town of Arlit, an industrial town located in the Agadez region, where uranium is mined by French companies in two large uranium mines (Arlit and Akouta).

Arlit was the subject of the Niger uranium forgeries when President George W. Bush, in the build-up to the (illegal) Iraq war, in his 2003 State of the Union address stated, ‘The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,’ when it was alleged that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase ‘yellowcake’ uranium powder from Niger during the Iraq disarmament crisis.

These 16 words and the intelligence in this regard were later found to be baseless and rubbished by US intelligence agencies, albeit too late for innocent Iraqis who lost their lives over a lie during the war years.

Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who travelled to Niger to investigate the Iraq/yellowcake plot, concluded that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place, thus clearing Saddam Hussein of any re-starting of Iraq’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programme. Ambassador Wilson was punished for this by the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, allegedly by an official working in then vice-president Dick Cheney’s Oofice in the White House, which was also the plot of the movie ‘Fair Game’ released in 2010.

Put simply, this is about Uranium to be found in the Tuareg areas of Mali, Niger and Libya, the next step will be UN/ECOWAS/NATO Peace-keepers, Military intervention and killing of thousands of Tuaregs.

Moeen Raoof is a Humanitarian & Emergency Aid Consultant and Conflict Analyst. He undertook an investigation of the Bush Yellowcake/Iraq claim prior to the Iraq invasion by traveling to Niger at the same time as Ambassador Wilson's Mission. ,

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