First Published: 2012-11-17

 

In northern Mali: Women without veil detained

 

New fighting, crackdown on women not wearing veils by Islamist militants mars peace moves by two rival groups in Mali's desert north.

 

Middle East Online

Strict Sharia in action

OUAGADOUGOU - New fighting and a crackdown on women not wearing veils by Islamist militants on Friday marred peace moves by two rival groups in Mali's desert north despite pledges they were ready for peace talks with Bamako.

In Islamist-controlled Timbuktu, a local official said dozens of women were arrested on Thursday by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for not wearing veils.

"The Islamists were going into homes to arrest unveiled women," he said.

The women were being "imprisoned" at a disused bank, a medical source added, as AQIM militants vowed to continue the crackdown in the city which they control with Islamist group Ansar Dine, saying "that nothing can prevent them from doing so".

With the north of the country in the hands of a number of Islamist groups, a Tuareg separatist leader meanwhile said his National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had launched an "offensive" to retake the key north-central region of Gao controlled by the Al-Qaeda linked Islamist rebels of MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa).

But late Friday security sources said the fighting had ended and that the MNLA suffered a "heavy defeat".

An interim administration has been running Mali since the leaders of a March military coup stepped back from power under international pressure in April.

The coup resulted in Tuareg separatists seizing key towns in the north. They were later ousted by the Islamists, giving rise to fears by the international community that the area could become a sanctuary for international extremist groups.

Both AQIM and the less known but associated MUJAO have imposed a brutal form of sharia Islamic law, stoning unmarried couples, amputating thieves' hands and whipping drinkers and smokers.

"The Tuareg of the MNLA suffered a heavy defeat against the MUJAO Islamists. During the fighting, the MUJAO ambushed the MNLA which lost many men," said a Malian security source, which was then confirmed by a regional security source.

There were at least a dozen deaths for the MNLA and at least one death among the Islamists, the source added.

The Islamists sent the MNLA Tuaregs fleeing and "there were even some MNLA soldiers who sought refuge in neighbouring countries", said the security source who requested anonymity.

MUJAO had seized control of Gao in June following battles that claimed 35 lives, leaving the MNLA with no city base.

A spokesman for MUJAO, Walid Sahraoui, said the fighting left "several dead and wounded among the MNLA soldiers", but declined to give figures.

The "offensive" to take Gao came the same day as a high-ranking MNLA delegation announced along with Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine that they were prepared to go into peace talks with the government in Bamako.

A member of the MNLA delegation, Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, claimed that his group had "killed 13 MUJAO fighters... and wounded 17", while the MNLA suffered "nine wounded, one seriously", he said.

In Ouagadougou, the MNLA and Ansar Dine issued a joint statement saying they were "disposed to engage resolutely in a process of political dialogue under the aegis of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) mediation in order to find a negotiated, fair and lasting solution to the crisis."

The statement followed talks with Blaise Compaore, who is Burkina Faso's president and lead ECOWAS negotiator.

The fresh drive by Mali's neighbour Burkina Faso to find a negotiated solution to the crisis, which has effectively split Mali in two, came as plans by regional bloc ECOWAS to send troops into Mali gathered pace.

Ansar Dine has made some conciliatory gestures to the secular MNLA, notably announcing this week that it would not insist on sharia law across Mali but just in its northeastern fiefdom of Kidal.

It has distanced itself from AQIM and MUJAO.

Ansar Dine has also regained favour with the international community by renouncing its separatist ambitions.

The repositioning makes it increasingly likely that the ECOWAS intervention will focus on dislodging AQIM and MUJAO.

The planned force, approved by the African Union, will comprise some 3,300 mainly West African troops. The plan must go before the UN Security Council by the end of the month.

But questions still hang over the operation, particularly its exact composition and financing. It will also require logistical support from countries such as France and the United States.

The European Union also wants to support the effort. Its foreign ministers will meet Monday in Brussels to discuss sending a training mission made up of 200 to 400 European soldiers to Mali in January, according to French sources.

But the international community has made clear it favours a negotiated solution to the crisis.

 

US-led coalition warplanes hit IS near Syria's Al-Bab

Florida airport shooter ‘inspired’ by IS jiahdists

Palestinian home demolitions spark deadly violence

Iran opposes US joining Syria talks

Syria war forces elderly to take shelter in retirement homes

Istanbul nightclub attacker 'received orders from IS'

Turkish border officials refuse entry to NYT reporter

Fatah, Hamas agree to form unity government

Snowden’s stay in Russia extended by two years

East Syria clashes continue between IS, regime forces

Syrian general, 8 soldiers killed in tunnel blast

Turkey snubs UN hearing on detained Rwanda genocide judge

Rouhani calls for end to Saudi ‘interference’ across region

Saudi says China rise source of global stability not conflict

Lengthy drought leaves Somalia with serious famine risk

Gunman found in comfy Istanbul flat

Iran, Syria sign phone, petrol deals in Tehran

Jordan charges 8 with inciting opposition against regime

Iranian president rules out renegotiating nuclear deal

Turkey prosecutors demand up to 142 years in jail for Kurd leader

180 dead after boat capsizes in Mediterranean

Saudi carries out first death sentence of 2017

Libyan granted right to sue UK ex-minister for rendition

Syria regime, rebels name heads of delegation for Astana talks

Istanbul nightclub attacker captured

Syria troops, IS jihadists battle on in Deir Ezzor

Israel occupation forces rearrest Palestinian journalist

Russian FM says Syria peace talks to ‘consolidate’ ceasefire

Amnesty warns EU's anti-terror laws threaten human rights

Saudi health emergency after mass food poisoning

Darfur rebel groups rebuilding their forces in Libya, South Sudan

Saudi FM says Washington, Riyadh interests align

Morocco parliament elects new speaker

Hamas rejects ‘absurd’ Paris peace conference

Israeli army shoots dead Palestinian in West Bank clashes

Obama warns Trump against undoing Iran deal on anniversary

Turkish policeman who assassinated Russian ambassador buried in unmarked grave

EU foreign affairs chief says bloc will stand by Iran deal

UN judge caught in Turkey coup probe leaves Rwanda court blocked

Tunisia receives two more US patrol boats

Libya forces retake Benghazi district from jihadists

Turkey roadside bomb kills three policemen

Iraq forces retake IS-bombed shrine in Mosul

Palestinians, Israelis look ahead to Trump's America

Heavy snow traps 1,000 motorists in Tunisia