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War in Mali reaches sensitive stage

During the just concluded 42nd summit of the sub regional bloc ECOWAS which took place in Cote d’Ivoire, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno urged his counterparts from West-Africa to speed the deployment of additional troops to fight the Islamists in the northern parts.

Indeed, the call sounded more like a cry of distress as the 2000men-strong Chadian army has so far suffered the heaviest losses in the war, with 27 soldiers dead. Some sources even report that up to 80 soldiers had in fact fallen on the Malian battle field.

The Chadian army may have been victim of its reputation of an army with an extensive military experience in the hostile Sahel desert. In fact, Chadian units have directly gone into contact with the Islamist fighters in an attempt to dislodge them from their rocky cave hideouts.

So far, these efforts have not been as successful as expected despite claims by the Chadian army chief that one hundred rebel fighters were killed by his troops.

Furthermore, President Deby announced that his army killed the notorious Islamist chief, Algerian national Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid. The French, Algerian or Malian governments are yet to officially confirm the information that it has been widely repeated by the media.

Even though the death of such a terrorist mastermind is always a heavy blow to his group, it is not very likely it will have a significant effect on the situation in Mali, which unfortunately seems to be on its way to experiencing the fate of unsuccessful terror wars as noted in some part of the world over the last few years.

Despite the fact that those wars were waged on behalf of freedom and democratic principles, they sometimes failed to be fully supported by local populations.

The war in Mali seems to be no exception to the rule as noted elsewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia where local populations hardly backed the foreign efforts aimed at securing them.

Though the French intervention in the West-African country is to root out the Islamist militants, it has paved the way for some Malian troops to carry out retaliation acts against the population living in the areas formerly under Islamist-control including Arabs, Tuaregs and Fulani people whom they have rightly or wrongly accused of having sided with Islamist fighters.

This situation has prompted the light-skinned population of Timbuktu and Gao to either flee the region to neighbouring countries or fill the ranks of the rebel forces.

Those that stayed behind have become targets of ill-treatment or even murder.

The mysterious disappearance of four people, three Arab tradesmen and a Songhai, from Timbuktu after they had been arrested by Malian troops around mid-February is a case in point. They seem to have been victims of summary execution.

Within such a context, it would be difficult for international efforts to rid Mali of Islamists to be wholeheartedly backed by the local northern population.

Furthermore, the Malian army has since the rule of the first Malian President Modibo Keita had very violent relations with the northern population of the crisis-affect West-African country.

There were abuses perpetrated in those days by the notorious Malian army chief, Cpt Djiby Silas Diarro, against the Tuareg population of Gao.

Another fact that also needs to be acknowledged is the people in the north seem to take advantage of the absence of the central government in the huge desert area to indulge into many illegal trades such as contraband and drug smuggling which over the years have become their main sources of income.

While the northern region were under the control of the terrorist groups without any customs control, products from Algeria and Mauritania were smuggled into north Mali to be sold cheaply to local populations.

There is also drug trafficking which quickly spread in North Mali and parts of Niger which have become no man’s land. Mali shares a 821km-longer border with Niger in the north.

It is very hard to take stock of the number of people who earn their living directly or indirectly from the smuggling in the area but an article released by experts of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) has revealed that over 20,000 people in Mali and Niger are earning a living from the traffic.

Ever since the launch of Operation Serval , there has been a significant slackening in the drug smuggling in Mali as well as Niger.

This situation might prompt those involved in the smuggle to pick up arms in an attempt to “restore disorder” in the region and carry on with their juicy trafficking.

Besides, it is important to note that not all countries in the sub region agree on the principles and modalities of the foreign intervention in Mali.

Algeria in particular has always been reluctant about the kind of intervention currently carried out in Mali. Yet, a successful international action in Mali cannot be achieved without the full support of neighbouring Algeria which shares a 2000km-long border with Mali in the north.

It could be noted that the longer the military conflict in Mali, the harder for recession-hit France to sustain her forces in the African country.

Whatever happens, we must all keep in mind that if the Malian state sinks, it will negatively impact the peace and security of not only the West-African sub-region but also the world at large.

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