MALI

Tuareg civilians attacked in Bamako

 President Amadou Toumani Touré has urged Malians not to “confuse” Tuareg civilians with the Tuareg rebels that the army is fighting in the country’s north. Some residents of the capital are paying dearly for such “confusion.”

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A burned-out car in the centre of Bamako after soldiers' families protested in the streets on Thursday. Photo sent by our Observer Aly Maiga.

President Amadou Toumani Touré has urged Malians not to “confuse” Tuareg civilians with the Tuareg rebels that the army is fighting in the country’s north. Some residents of the capital are paying dearly for such “confusion.”

 

Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad have risen up in the past weeks to try and gain control of the Azawad region, which stretches hundreds of kilometers from western to northern Mali. Several cities including Menaka, Aguelhok, and Tessalit have been attacked by the rebels, who had been lying low since 2009.

 

Several people from both sides were killed during these attacks, but it has been impossible to independently verify the tally. For several days now, families and friends of soldiers fighting for the army in the north have held protests in cities around the country. They are demanding more information about their loved ones’ whereabouts and well-being.

  

The families of soldiers fighting in the north of the country held a protest in the capital Thursday.

 

The protests began Tuesday in Kati, a small military town a few kilometres from Bamako. Protesters chanted “Amadou Toumani Touré is an accomplice of the rebels!” and “More ammunition for our husbands!”, among other slogans. The next day, several homes belonging to Tuaregs were broken into and ransacked.

 

On Thursday, protesters then hit the streets of the capital and in the cities of Kati and Ségou. In Kati, witnesses report that Tuareg homes were also attacked.

“I left Bamako because foreigners and people with light skin were getting attacked”

Assan Midal is a Tuareg who works as a tour guide in Bamako. He left the capital Thursday night and was on his way to Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, when we spoke to him Friday.

 

I’m with a convoy of about one hundred cars going to Ouagadougou. We left Bamako during the night so as not to run into any angry protesters blocking the road. In this convoy, there are even Tuareg officers from the regular army. They’re fleeing too.

 

I saw with my own eyes people being attacked, stores getting looted, cars being set on fire. People with light skin (Arabs and Tuaregs) were being targeted. [Worried they might be attacked, several dozen Mauritanians living in Mali sought refuge at the Mauritanian Embassy in Bamako on Thursday].

 

Enraged protesters can’t tell regular Tuaregs and rebel Tuaregs apart, and they yell “Death to Tuaregs” at everyone. Tuaregs living in Bamako are accused of being the brains behind the rebellion in the north, but that’s not true.

 

The rebellion has caused many casualties in the army’s ranks, so perhaps the protesters want to “balance the equation” by attacking Tuareg civilians. They even attacked military families just because they were Tuareg.

 

I don’t think soldiers’ wives alone can be behind this violence. I think the military must be egging protesters on. And though the police are present at these demonstrations, they don’t do anything when protesters – who are for the most part youths – become violent.”

 

“A pharmacy belonging to a Tuareg near my house was completely ransacked”

Aly Maiga lives in Bamako. He and his mother took part in the protests. His father and other members of his family are fighting the rebels in the north.

 

The soldiers tell us that they’re very poorly equipped to face the rebels, whom they claim are armed to the teeth [Tuareg rebels reportedly brought back weapons from Libya]. They also complain that they aren’t given orders to shoot often enough.

 

Now, their loved ones in Bamako have become so angry that they’re attacking “whites” in the capital. On Wednesday night, a pharmacy belonging to a Tuareg near my house was completely ransacked. His home, too. As always, there are criminals who take advantage of protests to steal – it’s very difficult to tell who is truly a soldier’s child and who is not.”

 

A pharmacy belonging to a Tuareg was ransacked in Bamako. Photo by our Observer Aly Maiga.

“There is fear in the streets of Bamako, but it’s not total chaos yet”

Adando (not his real name) is an IT specialist living in Bamako. On Thursday, he uploaded photos of soldiers’ wives and children protesting.

 

Police near the presidential palace in Bamako on Thursday. Photo sent by our Observer AdandO.

 

On Thursday, I saw a group of about 150 young people from Bamako’s poorer neighbourhoods assembled near the presidential palace. They had put up roadblocks and were asking people to get off their motorcycles. These young people are for the most part illiterate, and can’t tell the difference between the rebels from the north and civilians.

 

A Moroccan friend called me yesterday and told me that several young men confronted him and asked to see his passport. If he had had a Malian passport, he could have been in big trouble. Other friends from France told me that the French embassy recommended they stay indoors. It’s a shame that many stores belonging to foreigners, as well as French companies, have shut their doors for the time being. There is fear in the streets of Bamako, but it’s not total chaos yet. We’ll see what happens tonight, after the evening prayers.”