Mali’s embattled coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, has called for outside help as advancing Tuareg and Islamist fighters seized ground, including a key northern town, from overwhelmed soldiers.
The Mali army said early yesterday it had pulled its troops out of two towns in the country’s northeast, hours after Tuareg separatist rebels forced them out of the strategic town of Kidal.
“We have strategically abandoned our positions in the towns of Ansogo and Bourem to reinforce our positions in Gao,” the army said in a statement.
Gao is the largest town in northern Mali that remains under the control of Mali’s new ruling junta.
The appeal from Sanogo came on Friday as the week-old junta, already frozen out by its foreign allies, stares down possible economic sanctions from neighboring countries, demanding a return to democracy, which could cripple the landlocked nation.
Angry at the old government’s “incompetence” in dealing with the conflict, the renegade soldiers chased Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure out of power on March 22, a move which prompted stiff rebukes from abroad.
“The rebels continue to attack our country and terrorize our people,” coup leader Sanogo said at the military barracks outside Bamako which have become the junta’s headquarters.
“The situation is now critical, our army needs support from Mali’s friends to save the civilian population and protect Mali’s territorial integrity.”
After heavy fighting, Tuareg separatist rebels and an allied armed Islamist group on Friday entered Kidal, 1,000km from the capital.
“The rebels are in charge, the army put up no resistance,” after 48 hours of fighting, a teacher said on condition of anonymity.
A witness said looting followed the fall of Kidal.
Malian troops were seen fleeing toward the larger city of Gao, home to a regional military base which is believed to be one of the rebel’s next targets along with the fabled city of Timbuktu.
Sanogo, speaking on public TV, said the new ruling junta would do everything “to assure the security of the people and property” in Kidal and was “preparing to return there.”
On its Web site, Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) spokesman Bakaye Ag Hamed Ahamed said the movement would “continue the offensive against two other regional capitals to dislodge the Malian regime and its army.”
Fighting alongside the MNLA were Islamists of the group Ansar Dine (“Defenders of Faith,” in Arabic) which has emerged on their flanks in recent weeks.
The relationship is ambiguous but Ansar Dine — which aims to establish Shariah, or Islamic law, in the region — has appeared to take the lead under renowned Tuareg rebel Iyad Ag Ghaly.