An Islamist militant group is working to tighten its grip on northern Mali, reaching out for new allies and conducting a crackdown on protests against its takeover. The United States is monitoring the situation closely and urges all parties in the troubled area to consider how their actions may affect them politically now and in the future.
Some 90 residents of the city of Goundam were rounded up and beaten by Ansar Dine militants following a demonstration there July 14. The protestors were later released, but not until local elders and an imam were called in by the militants and warned to prevent further protests or face a harsher crackdown.
The incident followed reports that a local militia group formerly allied with the Malian government may have broken ranks and joined with Ansar Dine to reinforce its hold on the region. This in turn followed a split with ethnic Tuareg fighters who had launched a rebellion against the Malian government to create an independent state in the North. The situation remains extremely fluid.
The crisis has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes and terrorized many who remain, fearing an imposition of an extremely strict interpretation of Islamic law. Regional leaders meeting at the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa recently said they fear continued unrest in northern Mali could destabilize the entire region and have begun laying out strategies to return the nation to civilian rule, including military intervention if necessary.
The United States is consulting with key partners to address the crisis, providing humanitarian aid and encouraging a political solution, one that properly addresses the grievances held by many in the North. The actions and policies of Ansar Dine do not reflect the will of the Malian people, and the group’s leaders must know that one day they will have to answer for their actions, which have included the wonton mistreatment of innocent citizens and the destruction of shrines and holy places. We would caution those groups who have not participated in these acts against affiliating themselves with those who flout international law, human rights and fundamental personal freedoms.