North Africa Theater
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced a "permanent" military mission in Mali April 5. Fabius, on a visit to Bamako, the capital, said Paris is moving ahead with plans to reduce its 4,000-strong military force beginning next month, but will maintain a combat presence in Mali to support a future UN "peacekeeping" mission. "France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men, which would be permanent, based in Mali and equipped to fight terrorism," Fabius said. (Reuters, April 5)
What are we to make of this? The Atlantic boasts photos of an April 4 international protest called by Ukrainian feminist group Femen in support of young Tunisian activist Amina Tyler, who received death threats after posting topless pictures of herself online in defiance of the growing hegemony of political Islam in her country. Femen's followers waged a "topless jihad," baring their breasts in cities across Europe—including in front of the Great Mosque in Paris. The Kiev protest was also in front of a mosque. Some of the targets were more appropriate, such as the Tunisian consulate in Milan and the embassy in Stockholm. The women scrawled slogans on their bared torsos, like "FREE AMINA." Somewhat disturbingly, some also appropriated the Islamic crescent in a sexualized way, using it to accentuate their breasts. This irreverent image actually appears on the logo of the Femen wesbite, which also touts its own movement as one of "Titslamism."
Malian troops swept Timbuktu for remaining Islamist fighters after a battle that left seven dead and prompted France to send reinforcements and fighter jets April 1. The fighters apparently infiltrated Timbuktu after using a car bomb to create a distraction. The previous day, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the city, raising fears of a new wave of violence as the European Union launches an ambitious program to overhaul Mali's army. "Objectively, it must be entirely rebuilt," said French general Francois Lecointre, who heads the EU training mission in Mali.
As tens of thousands of activists from around the world converge on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the annual anti-globalization confab, the country is facing a pending peckage of austerity measures as the condition of a $1.78 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund—two years after economic misery sparked an uprising in the country that unleashed the Arab Revolutions. "We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy," Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia's constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera. "It seems they have forgotten our history." (Al Jazeera, March 26)
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)
Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, cousin of Moammar Qaddafi, was arrested at his home March 19 in central Cairo by Libyan forces. The arrest of Qaddaf al-Dam coincides with the second anniversary start of the air campaign in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that assisted rebels in toppling Qaddafi's regime. Qaddaf al-Dam, who is said to have beeb a trusted accomplice of the former leader, has said he plans on filing a complaint with the Egyptian public prosecutor and Libyan authorities. The Egyptian-controlled Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that Libyan authorities will gain control of al-Dam and plan on prosecuting him. The specific charges faced by Qaddaf al-Dam are still unknown.
Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)