In Mali, Timbuktu under blockade for a month

At least 64 people, 49 civilians and 15 soldiers, were killed Thursday, September 7 in two attacks on a passenger boat and an army base in northern Mali

In Mali, Timbuktu under blockade for a month

At least 64 people, 49 civilians and 15 soldiers, were killed Thursday, September 7 in two attacks on a passenger boat and an army base in northern Mali. Both raids targeted "the Timbuktu boat" on the Niger River and "the army position" in Bamba, Gao region, according to a statement from the military government, also indicating that the response of the Malian armed forces ( FAMa) made it possible to “neutralize around fifty terrorists”. The authorities have declared a national mourning for three days from Friday, following these two attacks claimed by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, affiliated with Al-Qaeda).

The Malian Navigation Company (Comanav) boat was targeted in the Gourma-Rharous sector, between Gao and Timbuktu. Comanav provides an important connection over several hundred kilometers from Koulikoro, downstream from Bamako, to Gao, passing through several towns along the Niger River. Images posted on social networks, in an area with difficult access and communications, show a thick cloud of black smoke rising from the building towards the sky.

On Friday, a new terrorist attack this time targeted Gao airport. The Malian army mentioned in a brief message on social networks a “kamikaze and complex” attack, but without providing an assessment, simply saying that “the response and evaluation [were] underway”.

The price of gasoline has doubled

These attacks occur in a context of growing tension between the Malian state and the political-military groups of the Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA, the former Tuareg and Arab rebellion) and where the city of Timbuktu is facing a blockade of GSIM since August 8. In this crossroads city in northern Mali, a lot of goods are imported from Algeria and Mauritania. Oil, pasta, sugar but above all gasoline are increasingly rare and subject to significant speculation.

Some trucks have managed to bypass the blockade, but the vast majority remain blocked and the roads are less and less busy. “The liter of gasoline has doubled: it was still 700 francs [CFA] a month ago, today it is more than 1,500 francs [CFA]. Life is slowing down,” says Mahamane Alidji Touré, host of Radio Bouctou, a local radio station.

On September 4, the Prime Minister of the Transition, Choguel Maïga, received a delegation of nationals from the Timbuktu region, but the press release published at the end of this meeting made no mention of the blockade. This is limited to pointing out “the exacerbation of security incidents” having caused “restrictions on the transport of goods and the surge in prices of basic necessities, or even their scarcity on the markets”.

“The situation continues to deteriorate.”

" I'm really scared. The situation continues to deteriorate and everything is happening as if the factors that led to the 2012 uprising are still there,” worries Dr. Ibrahima Maïga, head of the Timbuktu health center. The doctor deplores the closure of several health centers due to new clashes. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mali, more than 30,000 people "have moved preventively through the regions of Timbuktu, Taoudéni and to neighboring countries since the beginning of the blockade".

The blockade of the city of Timbuktu comes as the United Nations mission (Minusma) was forced to leave Mali by the ruling junta by the end of the year. The blue helmets have thus just left two military camps in Ber and Goundam, a few kilometers from Timbuktu. These bases were transferred to the Malian authorities, thus allowing Bamako to justify a repositioning of its troops in the north of the country. The story of the reconquest of lost sovereignty, however, comes up against the reality on the ground. The FAMa faces both jihadist groups, who are increasing attacks, and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), signatory of the 2015 Algiers peace agreement, with whom tension is growing.

The agreement has never seemed so threatened today. Concerns reinforced by the arrival on August 3 of the FAMa and Wagner in the military camp of Ber, about 60 kilometers from Timbuktu. Four days later, after an attack on one of its positions that left two dead in its ranks, the CMA denounced a "violation of the ceasefire" signed in May 2014 and the "belligerent" attitude of the government Malian.