Confusion in Mali after request for military intervention
BAMAKO, Mali — Days have passed since Mali’s interim government made a formal request to neighboring nations for military help to try to take back the country’s north, which fell to Islamist rebels after a coup five months ago.
But in a bizarre twist, the Malian government is refusing to confirm to its own people that it has made the regional appeal. Confusion in the capital, Bamako, is growing and heightening the perception that the soldiers who led the March coup — but were then pressured into handing power back to civilians — are still calling the shots.
There has been no mention on state TV of the formal request to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). And four days after the request for military help was confirmed by France, and after reporters from several news organizations were leaked copies of the official document, presidential spokesman Diarra Diakite said he had nothing to say on the matter, and that he had not seen the request.
“I myself have not seen this request, and if I had I would have sent it out for publication in the press,” Diarra told The Associated Press Friday. “Up to this moment, I haven’t seen it and so please don’t ask me, as I don’t know anything about it.”
A copy of the request dated Sept. 1, which was seen by AP, shows that Interim President Dioncounda Traore asked the West African regional bloc of 15 nations to provide five battalions to try to take back the north. Mali is also asking for air support to destroy rebel bases in their remote hideouts, as well as to gather intelligence.
Traore also asked for help in restructuring the Malian army, including training infantry and artillery units, and logistical support including de-mining equipment and water purification systems to be used in the field.
For months, the international community has been pressing Mali to make the formal request for military help so that regional leaders can ask the U.N. Security Council to send forces into the country. France and the United States have expressed deep concern about the north becoming a base for international terrorism. Two rebel groups control the immense territory, and both have ties to al-Qaida’s affiliate in North Africa.