Thursday, 5 July 2012

Mali Islamists planting mines around Gao

According to a number of sources, Islamist fighters in northern Mali have planted anti-personnel mines around the town of Gao, which they seized last week. The move is designed to stop a potential attack by Tuareg rebels. The two groups have reportedly fallen out.

In April, following a coup Tuareg rebels and Islamist groups fought together in order to take over northern Mali. This seems to be no longer the case.

In view of the situation, France has said that it is determined to stop "international terror bases" there. France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he wanted to prevent such groups as al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) threatening the peace and security of the whole region.

Ayrault's comments follow desecration by al-Qa'ida militants from Ansar Dine of ancient Muslim shrines in the northern city of Timbuktu. Those responsible said the shrines contravened their interpretation of strict Islamic law.

The new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda dubbed the destruction a "war crime".

According to Gao residents, fighters from another Islamist militant group, Mujao, have instilled an atmosphere of terror by planting mines around the town, east of Timbaktu. There have reportedly been warnings issued by the militants for people to remain within the town and desist from going outside the main roads.

It is estimated that more than 300, 000 people have fled northern Mali since the rebels took over.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

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