Africa

UN Security Council urges end to fighting in Mali

Civilians from Timbuktu arrive in Bamako, 4 April Image copyright AFP
Image caption Civilians arrived in the capital Bamako from Timbuktu on Wednesday

The UN Security Council has called for an end to hostilities in northern Mali and a return to constitutional rule two weeks after the country's coup.

It voiced alarm at the presence of a militant group with al-Qaeda links inside the west African state.

The military junta said it has postponed a convention set for Thursday aimed at ending the crisis.

Meanwhile, a Tuareg rebel group in the north has said it is ending its part in the fighting.

The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) - one of two main groups battling against the government for control of the area - said it would unilaterally end military operations on Friday.

The rebels had taken advantage of the political turmoil after army officers deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure last month, saying he had not done enough to fight the rebellion.

'Unprecedented crisis'

Since then, the government has lost control of key northern towns.

In New York, the Security Council said it "strongly condemns the continued attacks, looting and seizure of territory carried out by rebel groups in the north of Mali and demands an immediate cessation of hostilities".

It backed the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to restore order in Mali.

The Council also expressed concern at the presence of Islamists linked to al-Qaeda in northern parts of the country, who have been fighting along with the MNLA.

The main Islamist group, known as Ansar Dine, has said it plans to impose Sharia law, according to AP news agency.

But the MNLA, which has different aims, said in a statement on its website on Wednesday that it had no plans to continue fighting.

"After the complete liberation of the Azawad territory and given the strong request by the international community", the MNLA "decides unilaterally to declare the end of military operations from midnight Thursday".

Speaking after the Security Council passed its statement, Malian envoy Oumar Daou said his country was in an unprecedented crisis.

"People are divided, our country is threatened with partition, northern Mali is today occupied by Tuareg rebels and Salafists [Islamist militants], hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons] are currently living in unimaginable conditions," he said.

"How is it that a country just weeks ago that was known and recognised as a benchmark, a country in which the democratic model had taken route... is finding itself before the international community needing its help?" he asked.

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Media captionTimbuktu mayor Halle Cisse: "We don't know who's in charge"

Coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo has said Mr Toure may be charged with "high treason and financial wrongdoing". The deposed leader is believed to be in hiding.

Col Moussa Coulibaly, an adviser to the coup leader, said a national conference due to be held on Thursday would be postponed "in order to better organise", but did not set a new date.

Political parties and civil society groups had rejected the invitation to the event, saying they do not recognise the junta's legitimacy.

The country's military rulers, however, say the convention is aimed at mapping out a path to restoring a civilian government.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is attempting to open a dialogue with the rebels so that it can recommence its aid operations in remote parts of the north.

It said it had had to withdraw its international staff after its warehouses were looted in the town of Gao.

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