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Mali leader decries recent uptick in violence

October 3, 2013

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s president on Wednesday decried a recent flare-up of violence in the West African nation, accusing separatist rebels in the north of “blackmail” and vowing to dissolve a military reform committee after soldiers took up arms to demand promotions.

Speaking on state television one day after he cut short a trip to France and returned to the capital, Bamako, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita delivered a stern warning to anyone looking to foment unrest.

“I cannot tolerate indiscipline and anarchy in any case,” said Keita, who was elected in a runoff vote in August.

Keita’s election was meant to turn the page on a turbulent period for Mali, which lost its northern half to rebel groups including Islamist extremists following a military coup in March 2012.

A French-led military intervention launched last January drove the Islamists from major cities, but separatist Tuareg rebels remained in the northern city of Kidal, turning it into a de facto Tuareg state. A peace accord in June allowed the Malian military to return to Kidal and for the presidential election to be held, though the reconciliation process was dealt a significant blow when the separatists announced they were pulling out of the accord last week.

On Sunday, separatists exchanged gunfire with Malian soldiers in Kidal, the first time the two sides had fought openly since the rebels’ announcement. The skirmish came one day after two people were killed and seven others wounded in the northern city of Timbuktu when suicide bombers blew up their vehicle near a military camp.

Fighting in Kidal flared up again on Monday before French soldiers intervened.

In his televised remarks late Wednesday, Keita addressed the separatists in Kidal, accusing them of “blackmail” but saying he was committed to promoting development in the north.

In a separate incident Monday that heightened fears of insecurity, soldiers at an important military barracks near Bamako took an army colonel hostage, saying they had not received the promotions they had been promised.

In response, Keita said that a military reform committee based at Kati, the barracks where the colonel was taken hostage, would be dissolved.

“I’ve instructed the government to proceed without delay with the settlement of accounts and dissolution of the committee for the reform of the armed forces of security and defense,” Keita said. “May the hierarchy prevail... may the chain of command obey or admit its weakness.”

Keita added: “I say to the authors of the shameful events of Kati: Enough, Kati will not create fear for Bamako.”

Earlier in the day, Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Bathily announced that 23 prisoners of war affiliated with the Tuareg separatists in the north were being released, a move he described as a “sign of appeasement.”

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