Simmering ethnic tensions boiled over in Mali on Tuesday as the army hunted down suspected Islamist fighters and residents took revenge on shops belonging to the country’s Tuareg and Arab minorities.
Reports from the Saharan town of Timbuktu said that dozens of residents had attacked property owned by Tuareg and Arab traders whom they suspected of collaborating with the rebels. The al-Qaida-allied fighters evacuated the town last week as French and Malian forces closed in.
There were fears that the Tuareg civilians could now be caught up in a bloody backlash, both from angry neighbours and from the army.
Mali soldiers were deployed in Timbuktu on Tuesday but made little effort to stop widespread ethnic-based looting.
…”They are traitors,” Amadu Traore, an English teacher from the town of Youwarou, near Timbuktu, said on Tuesday, when asked what he thought of the Tuareg. He added: “They are also racists. They have lighter skins than us. They look down on us black Africans.”
The French are looking to take a back seat in this, and in the final push into the North.
The French military – which took Timbuktu over the weekend and Gao late last week – has indicated it is unlikely to push up to Kidal, a remote desert area many hundreds of miles from its current position.
Instead the job will probably be left to troops from Chad, part of a poorly-equipped African force supporting the Mali army. It remains to be seen what welcome they will get. France has signalled it wants to hand longer term security operations to African soldiers, now the major phase of its operation is over.
This will not end well. The potential for mission creep and spillover is illustrated by this map:
In that context, contemplate this:
DOD spox: US-Niger SOFA has been in the works for “months, maybe a year.” Asked “why Niger?,” he replies “Why not Niger.”
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) January 29, 2013