Originally published by World Watch Monitor
While the world’s attention is fixed on IS in Syria and Iraq, it’s easy to forget that last year, French troops were rushed to Mali to prevent a jihadist-influenced coup that threatened to take over the country. This swift intervention meant that the coup which took over much of the north was halted.
For nearly a year in 2012 armed Islamist groups had ruled that region, banning the practice of other religions and desecrating and looting churches and other places of worship. Thousands, including many Christians, fled the occupation and found refuge in the south of the country or in neighboring countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso.
Now amidst a new upsurge of jihadist activity in the north, Mali’s Catholic Bishops have expressed their concern over the security situation in the whole country.
A recent series of attacks by militants has targeted mainly UN peacekeepers. On October 7, a Senegalese UN peacekeeper was killed in an attack on a joint French and UN camp in the northern town of Kidal.
On Friday October 3, gunmen on motorbikes ambushed a UN convoy near the northern town of Gao; nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed. The attack was claimed by The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, an Islamist group widely known by its French acronym, Mujao.
Mujao, with two other jihadist groups – Al-Qaeda In the Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine – occupied northern Mali for about 10 months in 2012 before being ousted by the French in January 2013.
In total 31 peacekeepers have lost their lives, and 91 been injured since the deployment of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in July 2013. During the UN General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the situation in northern Mali is ‘extremely precarious’.
In their statement, the Bishops said ‘‘While the situation remains worrying in the north, given the bombings and other frequent attacks perpetrated against UN peacekeepers, and peaceful people who want to resume a normal life, the socio-political situation is not that better in the south’’.
More efforts are needed to fully restore peace and security, they urged. While deploring the increase of attacks, the Bishops called on all armed groups and all citizens to work for the peace, unity and prosperity of Mali.
‘‘We urge all Malians to put first the interests of Mali over all other interests while the house is in danger, and when we need to stick together to save it. Mali is our motherland that we must build together based on cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.
‘‘Therefore, we must learn again the meaning of this country…the meaning of citizenship’’ read the statement, issued at the end of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, held on September 24-26, 2014, in Bamako, the capital.
The declaration comes while representatives of the government and armed groups have been holding peace talks in Algiers. The Malian prelates have welcomed these, describing them as a ‘’meeting of hope for all Malian patriots.’’