Six Mali groups unite with vow to oust Islamists from north
Six Malian self-defence groups said Saturday they had joined forces to oust Islamist militants who have seized control of the country’s northern half for almost four months.
The groups announced they had created a joint fighting force of several thousand men with the aim of pushing out the Islamists.
“To liberate the north of Mali, to unite the resistance forces, we have decided the creation of the Patriotic Forces of Resistance (FPR),” said a document signed by representatives of the six movements.
“Our six movements have together gathered thousands of men. Some are now undergoing training at our bases in Sevare,” a central Mali town, one of the FPR leaders, Harouna Toure, told AFP.
Other sources confirmed that several 100 young volunteers were now being trained to fight the Islamists, whose grip on northern Mali has stoked regional fears of a new sanctuary for religious extremists in Africa.
Muslim hardliners who fought alongside ethnic Tuareg separatists and swept across Mali’s desert north in the aftermath of a March military coup, have sidelined the separatists and imposed an austere brand of Islamist rule.
The Islamist forces include Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Another of the extremist groups, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), has occupied the city of Timbuktu, where they have whipped unmarried couples, smokers and drinkers and destroyed ancient shrines considered idolatrous.
Officials in the capital Bamako, far to the south, face a host of other problems in the wake of a March 22 military coup.
The embattled interim authorities are trying to form a unity government and stop attacks against public figures and journalists in the capital.
“We will go with or without the Malian army,” said Amadou Abdoulaye Cisse, leader of one of the six groups. “We will defend our territory, and our besieged relatives.”