‘Jihadists’ kidnap over 110 civilians in Mali

Suspected jihadists in central Mali are holding more than 110 civilians they abducted six days ago, local sources told AFP on Monday.

Three buses carrying the civilians were stopped on April 16 by “jihadists”, who forced the vehicles and the passengers to head towards a forest between Bandiagara and Bankass, a local group of associations and an elected official said.

“We demand the release of more than 110 passengers of three buses abducted on Tuesday by jihadists,” a member of the group, Oumar Ongoiba, told AFP.

An elected official from Bandiagara, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons, said: “The three buses and the passengers, more than 120, are still being held by jihadists.”

Bandiagara associations had on Friday published a statement condemning the “persistence of terrorist attacks”, the “growing numbers of displaced” people in towns and “the lack of action by the armed forces”.

A protest against insecurity in the town last August following jihadist attacks turned violent and several people were injured.

Mali has since 2012 been ravaged by different factions affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, as well as by self-declared, self-defence forces and bandits.

The violence spilled over into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with all three countries seeing military regimes seize power.

Since overthrowing Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020, the junta has undertaken a strategic reorientation, breaking off its long alliance with former colonial power France and fostering closer military and political ties with Russia.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger formed their own Sahel alliance in November and all pledged to leave regional bloc ECOWAS.

The worsening security situation in Mali has been compounded by a humanitarian and political crisis.

The junta has faced domestic and international criticism raised since failing to meet commitments to hold a presidential election in February and then step down.

Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said this month that elections would only be held once the security crisis has been stabilised.

– Opposition silenced –

According to security sources and human rights reports, violence increased in the centre of Mali in the last quarter of 2023 when military operations surged.

Despite the operations, armed groups have continued their attacks in the centre and south, coming close to the outskirts of the capital Bamako.

In March, the army said troops had fought off three “terrorist” assaults targeting a customs post about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Bamako and two army camps in the south.

AFP could not independently verify claims from both sides from often remote places where access is rare. The Malian army rarely reports on any operation other than to claim victory.

The regime has effectively silenced the opposition, journalists and human rights defenders, with many in jail or exile.

On March 31, less than a week after the junta had been scheduled to hand power back to civilians, several political parties and civil society groups put out a rare statement demanding elections “as soon as possible” and noting the country was in a “legal and institutional vacuum”.

Days later, all political activities were suspended awaiting the results of a national dialogue launched by junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita in December.

Media coverage of political parties was also banned in the West African nation.



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