Regional leaders and international organizations met in Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Friday to seek a response to the occupation of the north of the country by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, but failed to resolve differences on how to tackle the growing security threat.
Mali remains paralyzed by twin crises, with the leadership in Bamako still divided since a March coup that toppled the president and the rebel takeover of the north of the country.
Regional and international efforts to deal with the situation, which has created a safe haven for Islamists and international criminal gangs, have been hampered by divisions over how to help.
“The main challenge today is how to deal with the dangerous situation in the north of the country expeditiously,” new AU Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the meeting.
“This is a threat we cannot afford to take lightly, and … the danger it poses extends far beyond the African continent. The sooner we deal with it, the better,” she said.
In a document adopted during the talks involving Mali’s west and north African neighbors, the AU, the UN and the EU, delegates called for sanctions against terrorist networks and Malian rebels who refuse to break ties to them and join talks.
However, scant measurable headway was made toward harmonizing the positions of those calling for military action and others who prefer to give talks a chance.
With six hostages held by the Islamists and fearful of an attack on home soil, former colonial power France is eager for military action. Some West African leaders who worry that Mali’s conflict will spill over into their own largely fragile states also favor military action.
Meanwhile, Islamists controlling northern Mali were destroying more Muslim saints’ tombs in the ancient city of Timbuktu on Thursday, witnesses said, in the latest attack on the world heritage sites considered blasphemous by the jihadists.
Rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied group Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) have drawn international condemnation for waging a campaign of destruction on the city’s cultural treasures since seizing it in the wake of a March coup that plunged Mali into chaos.
A resident said the Islamists, some of them armed, had arrived in three vehicles in the southern neighborhood of Kabara and begun destroying one of the area’s three ancient tombs.
“They are destroying the first tomb with pickaxes and other tools, and saying they are going to destroy all the tombs,” another resident said.
Ansar Dine, which controls Timbuktu along with al-Qaeda’s north African branch, began its campaign of destruction after UN cultural organization UNESCO put the fabled city on its list of endangered world heritage sites.
In July, Ansar Dine rebels smashed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints, as well as the “sacred door” to a 15th-century mosque.
The group has also threatened to destroy the city’s three ancient mosques, one of which dates back to 1327.
The destruction of endangered world heritage sites in Timbuktu has provoked widespread outcry, uniting countries as disparate as the US and Russia in their condemnation.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has labeled it a war crime and threatened to prosecute those responsible.
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