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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Extremist attacks cast shadow over Mali’s presidential election

Young children are among the 289 people to die in communal violence.

Motorbike taxis ride past a giant poster of Mali’s incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita that reads “the great Mali advance” in Bamako (Baba Ahmed/AP)
Motorbike taxis ride past a giant poster of Mali’s incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita that reads “the great Mali advance” in Bamako (Baba Ahmed/AP)

By Carley Petesch and Baba Ahmed

Deadly extremist attacks are casting a shadow over this month’s presidential election in Mali.

A branch of al Qaida even set off a car bomb at the headquarters of a new West African counter-terror force late last month, further destabilising the centre of the country as extremist groups expand from remote northern regions where they have had strongholds for years.

A more assertive response by Mali’s security forces has led to accusations of extra-judicial killings, while neighbours turn on each other amid suspicions of joining extremist groups.

At least 289 civilians including young children have been killed in communal violence since the beginning of the year, with some burned alive in their homes or killed while hiding in mosques, the United Nations said this month.

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Soumaila Cisse, opposition presidential candidate at a rally (Baba Ahmed/AP)

As the July 29 elections approach, insecurity is a major issue for candidates including President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is seeking a second term.

Experts warn of a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of schools have closed out of fear of attack.

People are afraid of kamikazes, conflicts in the polling station or even a post-election crisis Moulaye Ongoiba

“It would be difficult to organise the elections in my commune in Mondoro, near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso,” one local official, deputy mayor Moulaye Ongoiba, said.

Extremist attacks in the region have risen over the past year, while tensions grow between ethnic Fulani Muslims and other groups such as the Dogon and Bambara who accuse the Fulani of being recruited by jihadists.

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A supporter of Soumaila Cisse (Baba Ahmed/AP)

“The Malian army attacks the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the jihadists, and the jihadists attack the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the army. It’s a chaotic situation,” the 32-year-old deputy mayor said.

“People are afraid of kamikazes, conflicts in the polling station or even a post-election crisis.”

Five years ago a French military intervention had pushed al Qaida-linked fighters from their strongholds in the north and security appeared to be improving.

But while the international community has invested millions of dollars in Mali’s government, the situation has deteriorated.

Press Association

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