By their own accounts, the leaders of the coup d’etat in Mali are proceeding rapidly to consolidate their power. On the other hand, many independent reporters see widespread lawlessness and chaos. With a coup in the capitol in the South and a rebellion in the North, the political situation and the security of Mali is unpredictable.
In a video broadcast in the capitol Bamaka on Thursday morning, a spokesman for the rebels announced they had put an end to the regime of President Amadou Toumani Touré. They say the coup was necessary because he is incompetent. In particular, the coup leaderscite the inability of the government to bring under control the rebellion of the Tuareg, a Berber people who reside in northern Mali and much of the Sahara, or to develop a military force capable of ensuring national security.
Amnesty International recently labeled the situation in the North a human rights crisis. According to the report of the organization, thousands of refugees have crossed the border into neighboring countries. The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates 25,000 to 30,000 refugees have fled the country. The MNLA, as army of the Tuareg rebels is called, humiliated the Malian army and may have executed prisoners. Amnesty International has received reports that in reprisal the Malian military arrested four Tuaregs, including two women, as sympathizers to the Tuareg rebels.
Ominous February protests in the capital against the government called for more supplies and support for the military. Outside the capital city, women identified as the wives of soldiers staged protests and demanded ammunition for their husbands. A mob targeted citizens with lighter skins, whom the crowd identified as ethnic Tuaregs. (Some were or Arabsor Mauritanians). Tuareg leaders claim Malian security forces did not protect lighter-skinned people or their property against the protesters.
The coup leaders in the South have suspended the constitution, prompting international condemnation. France has stopped cooperating with Malian authorities except for humanitarian efforts. In the US the White House issued a statement calling for an “immediate restoration of constitutional rule” and reaffirming its support for President Amadou Toumani Touré. EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton issued a similar statement. The Economic Community of West African States also condemned the coup.
Twenty years ago Amadou Toumani Touré himself participated in the military coup that brought down the previous government. Since that time Mali has enjoyed democratic elections and a relatively free press. Elections were to be held this year, but he was stepping down as president because of term limits in the Malian constitution.
With an ongoing rebellion in the North and a coup d’etat in the South, Malians see little chance for stability in the near term. Reports suggest the coup d’etat was planned well enough to take over the presidential palace, the airport of the capital, and the broadcast media in coordinated attacks. Nevertheless, the news from the country suggests the country is in chaos and without the rule of law. No soldier has been identified as the leader of the putsch that brought down the government. Witnesses report seeing soldiers looting the presidential palace. The location of Amadou Toumani Touré is unknown. Tuareg rebels say they have captured another town in the North.