Mali: continued fighting in the capital; war crimes reported in the north

Gunfire continued in Mali's capital Bamako for a third day May 2, as patrols under the command of the ruling junta hunt down soldiers who had tried to stage an counter-coup. Accounts are sketchy, but it appears units of the "Red Berets" presidential guard loyal to the ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure took up arms to displace the junta that overthrew him. BBC tells us shots were also fired into the air to break up a student protest—without saying what the students were protesting, or which faction they are aligned with. The counter-coup attempt comes as coup leader Cpt. Amadou Haya Sanago rejected plans by regional bloc ECOWAS to send a military force to the country, and for elections to be held within 12 months. (BBC News, RFI, May 2; AFP, AP, May 1) Human Rights Watch has meanwhile issued a report charging that the Tuareg rebels, Islamist armed groups, and Arab militias now in control of northern Mali have committed numerous war crimes, including rape, use of child soldiers, and pillaging of hospitals, schools, aid agencies, and government buildings. The report, issued April 30 after a 10-day fact-finding mission to Bamako, says Islamists have carried out summary executions, amputated the hand of at least one man, held public floggings, and threatened women and Christians.

The report mentions by name the Tuareg rebel army, the Movement for National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA); and the principal Islamist faction, Ansar Dine. It refers only vaguely to "Arab militias." But in an earlier report we noted that an Arab-led "Azawad National Liberation Front" (FLNA) has emerged to counter Tuareg rule in the north, and that the MNLA has denied reports that it uses child soldiers. It is notable that the HRW team did not actually visit the north.

The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that since January, nearly 284,000 residents of Mali's north have fled their homes as a result of the conflict, mostly to south Mali or neighboring countries. (Jurist, April 30)

See our last post on the struggle in Mali and Azawad.

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