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Malians Mull Solutions for Embattled North

Nancy Palus

In Mali's capital, Bamako, people from the north say they cannot stand by and watch their homeland be confiscated by Islamists and Tuareg rebels.  But for now there are not many concrete options for reversing what has happened, and the most urgent task is helping people in the wake of attacks and mass looting.  A northerners' association plans a mass meeting with the theme "Liberate northern Mali."

A few days ago, as more and more of northern Mali fell to the rebels, a text message began to circulate: “Civilians and military alike, let’s unite to liberate our country."

As the international community watches Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants position themselves in Mali’s northern cities, in Bamako people of the north’s other ethnic groups say they will never accept the confiscation of their home regions.

In a communique read on state television on Tuesday, a member of COREN, an association of people from the north, says before the division of Mali becomes irreversible, they call on all people from the north - men, women, civilians, military - to talk about how to recover their territory.

COREN members say the immediate task is helping people who are trapped in cities where shops, markets, banks, grain reserves and hospitals have been looted, and water and food are running out.  

Abdourahamane Touré is a leading member of COREN.  He says that whatever the coming weeks hold for efforts to push back the rebels, right now the rebels must take responsibility for people’s well-being.

Referring to the Tuareg rebels and the Islamic group that have taken northern cities, he says the MNLA and Ansar Dine are the ones in control today - they are the ones who must take measures to assure the security and free movement of the population.  He adds that hospitals and grain banks must be repaired immediately.

The MNLA is the Tuareg group that launched the latest uprising for northern autonomy in January.  Ansar Dine is an Islamist group suspected of having links to the regional group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

In their anger, some men and women from the north say people should mobilize, head north in a convoy and take up arms against what they call occupiers.  But this is mostly just talk, says Hamidou Touré, from the Gao region.

He says men and women alike are saying "Let’s go, let’s go fight - we must save the north." But, he says, if they were to start recruiting this minute, people would not accept going to the front.  In any case, he says, that is for the military; for now civil society must concentrate on getting food and medicines to communities living in the aftermath.

This Malian youth, who did not want to give his name, was passing through the town of Gao on his way to Bamako when the rebels swept through.  He says civilians should take up arms against those who have occupied northern Mali.

He says when the military started pulling back in Gao, youth asked soldiers to give them their weapons so they could fight, but the soldiers refused.

The United Nations, the African Union and the regional bloc ECOWAS are discussing whether and how to intervene in northern Mali, as the events there have repercussions for the region and the world.

For I.B. Touré, a resident of Gao, the international community must act now to save people’s lives. He says, these institutions can’t simply sit around and meet until the entire population of northern Mali dies.

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