Traore to lead new interim govt in Mali
BAMAKO AN interim leader was to take over from Mali’s junta on Thursday and head a transition government that must claw back control of half the country now in the hands of Islamists and Tuareg rebels.
Dioncounda Traore, the legislative speaker, was readying to become interim head of state on Thursday at 0900 GMT in the poor landlocked state plunged into chaos when a band of army mutineers staged a coup on March 22.
Traore was on Wednesday expected to meet the leader of the putschists, Captain Amadou Sanogo, who overthrew president Amadou Toumani Toure, accusing him of ineptitude in handling the Tuareg rebellion in the desert north.
The coup three weeks ago drew international condemnation, a broad aid freeze and sanctions from west African regional group ECOWAS, which negotiated the handover of power with a 40-day deadline for elections.
Amid the political wrangling in the south, the Tuareg — many of them heavily armed and battle hardened from last year’s Libya war — stepped up their long-simmering separatist campaign in the north.
Joined by Islamist extremists linked to Al Qaeda’s north Africa branch, they made dramatic gains, taking over an area the size of France including the legendary caravan town of Timbuktu in recent weeks.
The vast area is now in the hands of the Tuaregs’ Azawad National Liberation Movement armed Islamist group Ansar Dine, as well as arms and drug traffickers.
The European Commission warned that northern Mali could face a “major humanitarian disaster” unless access is given for food and medicine.
The crisis could also “spill over to neighbouring countries,” the European Union’s executive arm said in a statement.
Aid groups have also warned of a humanitarian crisis and abuses against civilians in the lawless area, hit by drought and acute food shortages, where more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting this year.
Seven Algerian diplomats, including the consul in the city of Gao, were being held hostage by a splinter group of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
Witnesses have also reported the presence of about 100 members of the Nigerian extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram in Gao.
Ansar’s Dine, led by charismatic former Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, has reportedly imposed Islamic sharia law in areas under his control.
The UN Security Council on Monday expressed deep concern at the growing “terrorist threat” in Mali.