DAKAR, Senegal — Six armed militias in Mali have joined forces and say they will retake the country's north from Islamist and rebel groups in control of the territory since April.
The Patriotic Forces of Resistance [FPR] says it will fight the Islamist militants and Tuareg separatists who seized control of northern Mali following a chaotic military coup four months ago. The FPR, the force's French initials, includes the northern Ganda Koy militia headed by Harouna Toure.
Toure says the armed movements making up the FPR were born out of the occupation and most are led by northerners. He said the movements decided to join forces to allow them to, in his words, "very rapidly" push out the occupiers.
The Malian army is struggling to reorganize following the coup. West African leaders have opened separate negotiations with the two main occupying forces and are preparing a regional military intervention, should talks fail.
Islamist group Ansar Dine and its al-Qaida affiliated allies seized full control of northern cities from separatist group MNLA in June, sparking international alarm that the area will become a safe haven for terrorists. The Islamists are imposing a harsh brand of sharia law in the towns.
Toure said northerners "cannot wait indefinitely."
He said residents of the north are suffering enormously. He said they don't have enough to eat, they are in poor health, and they do not have freedom. He said the suffering is growing. He also said the armed groups felt it was urgent that they form their own battalion to liberate their families and retake their land.
Toure said the FPR is training "thousands" of men and women at its base in Sevare, in central Mali.
The base is located near where the Malian military has been regrouping its forces since retreating from the north in April. However, Toure said the FPR has no contact with Mali's transitional government and is relying on northerners for arms and support.
He said they did not consult anyone when they created this force and they do not need to consult anyone to take action on their own territory to save their own people. He said this is their duty, and they will not wait for anyone's permission or collaboration.
Analysts warn that a hasty military intervention in northern Mali without first solving the post-coup political crisis in Bamako will just lead to further chaos.
Northern militias remain a wild card that analysts fear could spark inter-communal bloodshed.
Asked whether a militia-led offensive could spark greater conflict, Toure said the war is already underway.
He said this fight will forever change Mali. He said from now on, all northerners, men and women, will be armed and trained how to defend their territory. He said this will be an end to the cycle of rebellions that began in the 1990s. He said Tuareg groups have committed abuses and then signed accords with the government only to launch a new rebellion a few years later. He said the FPR will bring a definitive end to this type of rebellion.
Tuaregs are not the majority in northern Mali, which also is home to Arab, Songhai, Peul and Fulani groups.
Mali's central government in Bamako has previously used proxy militias, like the Ganda Koy, to contain Tuareg rebellions and insecurity in the largely ungoverned north.
The Ganda Koy, which was created in 1994, was known for extreme violence and has been accused of human rights abuses, including killing civilians.