By Jemal Oumar
Islamists from al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Din attacked and burned the tomb of one of Timbuktu’s saints Friday (May 4th).
The intruders broke off doors, windows and wooden gates of the tomb of Muslim scholar Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar and burned them. The Malian interim authorities denounced the attack on the UNESCO World Heritage Site as “an unspeakable act”.
“They promised to destroy other tombs; Timbuktu is in shock. Now they want to take and control other tombs and manuscripts,” an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack on the holy site came just a day after the latest meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Dakar. The regional bloc criticised the deteriorating security and political conditions in Mali following the recent armed confrontations between insurrectionists and the presidential guard in which a number of civilians were killed and wounded.
Leaders of the 15-member ECOWAS issued a statement in which they demanded the government of interim President Dioncounda Traore complete a roadmap that would end with holding presidential and legislative elections in the country.
The bloc also said that the regional military force they agreed to form at an earlier meeting was ready and awaiting a request by the Malian government. They also noted that consultations were under way with partners to fund the deployment of such a force.
In the same vein, AFP reported that a meeting was held between a delegation of Mali’s coup leaders, consisting of four military and civilians, and Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, but that they didn’t reach an agreement on the extension of interim period. Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassolé said: “Mali’s junta expressed their willingness to continue their talks with an ECOWAS mediator until a final solution is reached as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Le Journal Du Mali said that the Malian military delegation and the Burkinabe president agreed to extend the mandate of MPs, organise the army and form a military committee to proceed with the reformation of defence and security forces.
As to the situation on the ground in northern Mali, the military junta encouraged ECOWAS to engage the interim government in dialogue with the aim of restoring Mali’s territorial integrity and re-establishing the Malian administration’s authority. Meanwhile, contacts are still underway between the Malian government and armed movements in the north, and negotiations are expected to kick off soon.
The latest round of ECOWAS talks came as the security and economic situation continued to deteriorate for citizens of the northern Malian region known as Azawad.
Demonstrators took to the streets again last Tuesday in Timbuktu to demand the restoration of peace. Protestors also criticised the inaction of the Malian government, which didn’t do anything to solve citizens’ economic problems, Abdallah Gamu, a government employee in Timbuktu, told Magharebia.
“We started our march from opposite the municipality building towards the old town to express residents’ anger and their bad conditions,” Mohamed Cissé told Magharebia by phone. “We haven’t received our salaries for several months, so, how can we support our families?”
Another demonstration was supposed to be organised in Gao on Saturday (May 5th) to demand the departure of armed terrorist groups from town, but was postponed at the request of the constituent assembly of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), according to Mubarak Ag Mohamed, a MNLA spokesperson.
“That demonstration was decided to be indefinitely postponed until we see the results of on-going negotiations between the MNLA and some other factions,” he told Magharebia. “According to information available to us, there are strong indicators that Ansar al-Din will join us in return for meeting some conditions related to considering Islamic Sharia as the source of rule.”