AFRICA: Troops to Mali Next Year?
A group of West African nations has agreed upon a plan to send troops into strife-torn Mali to wrest back control of the nation’s north from Islamist rebels – some allied with an al Qaeda affiliate.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) voted Sunday night in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to send as many as 3,300 troops to stabilize the country, which has been wracked by violence and disorder following a military coup in March that created a vacuum allowing ethnic Tuareg rebels to seize nearly half the country, according to the Associated Press, AFP and McLatchy Newspapers.
The move still has to be approved by the United Nations and the African Union and any action is not expected for several months.
Islamist groups, some allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), quickly seized power in cities like Timbuktu, imposing strict Islamic law or sharia. Some of Mali’s neighbors as well as some Western governments worry that northern Mali could become a base and safe haven in Africa for al Qaeda and other violent radical groups.
Meanwhile, Mauritania – Mali’s western neighbor – warned that a military strike on Mali could cause violence to spill over its borders, AFP reported. And Algeria, Mali’s neighbor to the north, called for a political solution to the Mali crisis. “We believe the discussions currently taking place with the rebel groups allow us to envisage a viable political solution, that respects the sovereignty, unity and integrity of Mali,” Amar Belani, an Algerian foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.
One of the Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, has been in talks with the president of Burkina Faso.