Gao

OpenCalais Metadata: Latitude: 
16.2667
OpenCalais Metadata: Longitude: 
-0.05

 

This picture released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows French Mirage 2000 D aircraft flying to N’Djamena overnight Jan. 11-12, after taking off from the French military base of Nancy. The battle to retake Mali’s north from the al-Qaida-linked groups controlling it began in earnest Saturday, after hundreds of French forces deployed to the country and began aerial bombardments to drive back the Islamic extremists from a town seized earlier this week. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali — France claimed new successes in its campaign to oust Islamist extremists from northern Mali on Sunday, bombarding the major city of Gao with airstrikes targeting the airport and training camps used by the al-Qaida-linked rebel group controlling the city.

France’s foreign minister also said the 3-day-old intervention is gaining international support, with communications and transport help from the United States and backing from Britain, Denmark and other European countries.

The French-led effort to take back Mali’s north from the extremists occupying it has included airstrikes by jets and combat helicopters on at least four northern towns, of which Gao is the largest. Some 400 French troops have been deployed to the country in the all-out effort to win back the territory from the well-armed rebels, who seized control of an area larger than France itself following a coup in Mali nine months ago.

“French fighter jets have identified and destroyed this Sunday, Jan. 13, numerous targets in northern Mali near Gao, in particular training camps, infrastructure and logistical depots which served as bases for terrorist groups,” the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Residents of Gao confirmed that the targets included the city’s airport, as well as the building that served as the base for the town’s feared Islamist police, which — in their adherence to a strict version of Muslim law — have carried out numerous punishments including amputating limbs of accused thieves. 

But the intervention has come with a human cost in the city of Konna, the first to be bombed on Friday and Saturday. The town’s mayor said that at least 10 civilians were killed, including three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned trying to avoid the falling bombs.

French President Francois Hollande authorized the military operation, code-named “Serval” after a sub-Saharan wildcat, after it became clear that the advancing rebels could push past the defenses in the town of Mopti, the first town on the government-controlled side, which has the largest concentration of Malian soldiers.

The decision catapulted the world and Mali’s neighbors into a military operation that diplomats had earlier said would not take place until at least September. France’s defense minister said they had no choice because of the swift rebel advance.

On Saturday, the body representing nations in West Africa announced that the member states would send hundreds of troops of their own, including at least 500 each from Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, as well as from Nigeria.

U.S. officials have said they had offered to send drones to Mali and were considering a broad range of options for assistance, including information-sharing and possibly allowing limited use of refueling tankers. British Prime Minister David Cameron also agreed to send aircraft to help transport troops.

Junta leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo speaks to the press at junta headquarters in Kati, Mali on Saturday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali — The junior officer who overthrew Mali’s democratically elected leader earlier this month and dissolved the nation’s constitution made a public U-turn Sunday, declaring amid enormous international pressure that he was reinstating the 1992 constitution and planning to hold elections.

Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo added that he would organize a national convention to agree on a transitional government which will organize free and fair elections. What he did not make clear is when the convention would be held, or when elections would take place, or if he would remain president during the transitional period.

Sanogo’s announcement came as Tuareg rebels penetrated and seized control of the ancient northern city of Timbuktu, a move that deepens the crisis in the West African nation.

Tuareg rebels took advantage of the chaos surrounding last week’s coup in the faraway capital to take the town of Kidal, located 800 miles from Bamako on Friday. They seized the biggest northern city of Gao on Saturday — cities that never fell in previous rebellions.

Mali, once a model democracy, was plunged into crisis on March 21 when a mutiny erupted at the Kati military camp located around 6 miles from the presidential palace. Sanogo was one of the few officers who didn’t flee the camp when the rank-and-file soldiers began rioting, and he quickly became their leader as they broke into the camp’s armory, grabbed automatic weapons and headed for the seat of government.

His coup reversed 21 years of democracy, and sent President Amadou Toumani Toure into hiding. Toure was due to step down after the presidential election scheduled to take place in a month. Mali’s neighbors had given the country a 72-hour deadline to restore constitutional order, or face crippling sanctions. Sanogo’s declaration appears intended to stave off the sanctions, which were due to take effect Monday.

A senior adviser to the president of neighboring Ivory Coast said that the regional body representing states in West Africa was considering calling off the sanctions for one week. The information was confirmed by a diplomat from Burkina Faso, the country that is taking the lead in mediating the crisis.

In his declaration, Sanogo said, “We take a solemn promise to re-establish from this day on the constitution of the Republic of Mali of February 25, 1992, as well as the institutions of the republic.”

“Taking into account the multidimensional crisis that our country is facing,” he added, “we have decided that ... we will engage in consultations with all the actors of society in the context of a national convention in order to put in place a transitional body with the aim of organizing calm, free, transparent and democratic elections in which we will not participate.”

Legal experts say that his declaration is contradictory. If the 1992 constitution is reinstated, said law professor Malick Sarr at the University of Bamako, then logically the ousted president should become head of state again.Sarr said the putschists may be leaning on one of the articles in the 1992 law, which says that in the event that the president is unable to carry out his functions, a 25- to 45-day transitional period will go into effect before new elections are held.

However, the article clearly stipulates that the transition will be led by the head of the national assembly who would become interim president. When reporters asked the coup leader if he still considered himself president, he dodged the question, and turned to leave.

After seizing the strategic northern towns of Kidal and Gao, Tuareg rebels on Sunday besieged the fabled city of Timbuktu, taking their fight for a homeland for the nomadic Tuareg people to the last major government holdout in northern Mali. They penetrated its defense by late morning and by afternoon, residents saw pickup trucks brandishing the rebel flag zipping through town.

Residents contacted by telephone said they were cowering inside their homes as blasts from heavy arms and automatic gunfire crackled Sunday around the renowned Islamic intellectual center. Once they entered, residents said the rebels who are from the lighter-skinned Tuareg group allowed safe passage for soldiers from the darker-skinned Bambara ethnicity who agreed to leave the city, said a member of the military who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

The traditionally nomadic Tuaregs, who dominate the north of the country, have long felt marginalized by the Bambaras that dominate the nation’s south, and whose members are overwhelmingly represented in the junta now controlling the capital.

“We are hearing heavy weapons going off, coming from the south and east of the city. A part of the army abandoned the city last night,” said Timbuktu resident Mohamed Lamine early Sunday.

In Gao, which the rebels seized overnight, the insurgents were going from bank to bank trying to force their way into the safes, said resident Hama Dada Toure. And in Kidal, which is now starting its second day under rebel control, residents said that an Islamic faction within the larger rebellion was demanding shopkeepers take down pictures of unveiled women.

A hairdresser who fled the city said that he was told to take down the posters in his beauty shop showing different types of hairstyles, because the women were not covered.