Mali

There were headlines this weekend about a big military defeat for Islamist militants in Somalia. But even as international forces tackle Somalia, there is growing concern that a new area of lawless anarchy is emerging in northern Mali. I am currently at a conference in Morocco, and the security types here are talking openly about the need to intervene in Mali. A report from the respected International Crisis Group made the same point a few days ago.

The central government of Mali lost control of the northern half (or, by some reckonings two-thirds) of their country back in April. The region is now said to be under the sway of Islamists, who are allowing “foreign fighters” and jihadists to operate freely. The upsurge of violence in nearby Libya has focussed attention on how Mali is serving as a base for radical Islamists across north Africa. Read more

We’ve got some gripping reads for you today, from our own pages and elsewhere:

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Xan Rice, the FT’s West Africa correspondent, visited Mali, spending time in Bamako, and Mopti – a riverside town around 4oo miles northwest of the capital.

Why now? Mali is known as one of west Africa’s more peaceful countries. But now it faces two major crises. The first is political: on March 22, army officers staged a coup. An interim government has been formed, but the junta still wields considerable influence.

An Islamist rebel of Ansar Dine gestures on April 24, 2012 near Timbuktu, rebel-held northern Mali, during the release of a Swiss hostage. AFP PHOTO / ROMARIC OLLO HIEN

A member of Ansar Dine. AFP PHOTO/ Romaric Ollo Hien

The second crisis concerns northern Mali, a vast desert region. Since late March, the area has been controlled by a loose alliance of rebels whose victories over the poorly-equipped army helped spark the coup. One of the groups, the MNLA, is a Tuareg nationalist movement that wants independence. The other, Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith”, is a hardline Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist organisation. Neighbouring countries and Western nations fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for jihadis and criminal networks, a “west African Afghanistan”, in the words of France’s defence minister. Read more