Mali’s National Assembly on Wednesday called for military intervention in the north where Islamists have enforced strict Shariah law, destroyed ancient shrines and trapped residents with landmines.
Protesters from northern Mali demonstrated in the capital on Wednesday against the Islamist takeover of the immense northern region. About 2,000 people braved pouring rain to join the sit-in protest at Bamako’s Independence Square monument, chanting: “We want weapons to liberate the north.”
The protest came as the international community mulled ways to help Mali’s embattled interim government save its vast desert north, a territory larger than France or Texas, from the armed Islamists.
The presence of the rebel Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), which is openly allied with al-Qaeda’s north African franchise, has sparked concern that the region could become a new haven for terrorism.
Mali is being ruled by a 12-month interim government set up after a March 22 coup and which has proven powerless to deal with the partition of the country since the Islamists and Tuareg rebels captured key northern cities.
The Economic Community of West African States is scheduled to hold a mini-summit in Burkina Faso on Saturday to discuss the formation of a unity government that could request military intervention from its neighbors.
Interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore, who has not returned to his country since being attacked in his office in May, will travel from France to attend the summit, Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole said.
Mali has continued its descent into chaos since then and is de facto split in two, with Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda controlling the north.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday denounced an “accumulation of horrors” in rebel-held northern Mali, saying women were raped, men beheaded and ancient treasures destroyed.
He said he was “confident” the UN Security Council would soon pass a resolution authorizing the use of force to help Mali win back its territory.
“The aim is firstly to re-establish constitutional order in the south and to ensure and affirm Mali’s integrity,” Fabius said. Following that, the goal would be “to regain lost territory.”
France was determined to prevent the setting up of “international terror bases that threaten the peace and prosperity of the whole region and our security too,” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.