Mali Rebels Torch Timbuktu Manuscript Library – Mayor

Islamist fighters fleeing Mali’s ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu as French and Malian troops closed in, set fire to a South African-funded library there containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, the city’s mayor said on Monday.

Mr. Halle Ousmani Sisse said the Islamist rebels, who had occupied the fabled trading town since a Tuareg-led rebellion captured it on April 1, 2012 from government forces, also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.

The newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in the city containing fragile ancient documents dating back to the 13th century, built by the South Africans was also torched four days ago.

Ahmed Baba Institute is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and houses more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts; some stored in underground vaults.

Fighters from the Islamist alliance in the north of Mali, made up of AQIM, the Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine and AQIM splinter MUJWA, had also destroyed ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Muslims, provoking international outrage.

French and Malian troops were securing the city on Monday.

AU urges Ansar Dine rebels to part ways with al-Qaeda

Malian Islamist rebel group  can be part of a negotiated political solution to reunite the divided West African country if it breaks with al Qaeda and its allies, a senior African Union official said on Monday.

African leaders at an AU summit in Addis Ababa are backing negotiations to try to form an inclusive national unity government in Mali, where a March 22 military coup in the southern capital Bamako triggered the seizure of the north of the nation by a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels.

Since then, the Islamists, some allied with al Qaeda, have displaced local Tuareg separatists to seize control of most of the largely desert north, including the main towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They include Ansar Dine, a Malian group led by a prominent Tuareg fighter and political leader, Iyad Ag Ghali.

Parallel to the negotiations, the AU through the West African regional grouping ECOWAS is pursuing a plan to create a military force which, with U.N. backing, would intervene to expel the northern rebels and reunify Mali if the talks failed.

“We have not yet exhausted all the possibilities to reach a peaceful solution to this situation,” AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters at the summit.

While the AU has ruled out negotiations with what it calls “terrorist groups” such as al Qaeda and its allies like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, regional mediators were maintaining contacts with the Malian Tuareg-led MNLA movement and Ansar Dine, Lamamra said.

He welcomed the fact that the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), which originally led the successful rebellion in the north, declared on Sunday it had dropped its claims for a separate state after the northern revolt was hijacked by the al Qaeda-linked Islamists.

Lamamra said Ansar Dine could still also join the dialogue to form a national unity government for Mali, which he said should include influential figures from the north.

“We do encourage Ansar Dine to distance itself from al Qaeda and come to the table as a Malian national group,” he added.

Ag Ghali, who has been involved in past rebellions by the fiercely independent Tuaregs in northern Mali, has said his group, whose name Ansar Dine means “Defenders of the Faith”, wants to establish strict sharia, Islamic law, across Mali.

“DIVISION OF LABOUR”

Islamist groups including Ansar Dine have carried out public whippings of alleged adulterers in the north and destroyed UNESCO-listed shrines of local saints in the ancient town of Timbuktu, arguing such worship was un-Islamic.

African leaders are seeking U.N. Security Council support for the possible military intervention in Mali to end the rebellion in the north and reunite the Sahel state.

The Security Council has endorsed the West African efforts to end the unrest in Mali but has stopped short of backing a military operation until African leaders can clearly spell out its objectives and how it would be carried out.

Lamamra said AU and ECOWAS military experts were currently in Bamako drawing up a plan of action with the Malian army. He added the continental body should be able to go back to the Security Council with its detailed operational strategy for the intervention “in a matter of weeks”.

While African troops would make up the intervention force, Lamamra said he expected “a division of labour” for other tasks among the international community once the U.N. Security Council had given the go-ahead for the military operation in Mali.

“A number of countries can contribute intelligence,” he said, without specifying further.

Resolving the messy coup aftermaths in Mali, and also in Guinea-Bissau, where a military putsch in April interrupted a presidential election, are some of the tasks facing new AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa who was elected at the summit on Sunday.

In her first news conference after being elected and without referring specifically to Mali, Dlamini-Zuma, a former foreign minister and ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, said she would work to solve crises in Africa “as expeditiously as possible”.

She recalled that the AU had created its own Peace and Security Council precisely because, she said, the United Nations had often moved “at an elephant’s pace” to deal with African conflicts.

 

AU to take Mali to UN Security Council

The African Union plans to refer the situation in Mali to the United Nations Security Council so that it can create a framework for tackling the worsening crisis there, a diplomatic source close to the AU president said on Wednesday.

Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.

A regionally backed transitional government has been set up in Bamako to organise new presidential elections within a year, though supporters of the ruling military junta oppose the plan.

“The African Union will go to the Security Council and then it will be up to it to find the right format for a resolution and if it deems military support necessary,” said the source close to Thomas Boni Yayi, the Benin president and head of the African Union.

He said it was not clear when the issue would be taken to the United Nations.

An agreement between northern Mali’s MNLA Tuareg rebels and the al Qaeda-linked Islamist group Ansar Dine to create an Islamic state in northern Mali’s Azawad desert has hit trouble over how strictly to impose sharia, Islamic law.

The separatist MNLA wants a moderate form of sharia, while Ansar Dine would like to impose a more hardline version, using punishments such as the amputation of hands and heads for certain crimes.

The West African group ECOWAS said it rejected the idea of a separate Islamic state in northern Mali, and new French President Francois Hollande urged African leaders on Tuesday to ask the U.N. Security Council to help restore stability in the region.

REUTERS