Islamists set on own laws defy bid for mediation

By Serge Daniel

Mali says military intervention inevitable as jihadists enact sharia law and amputate thief's hand.

Mali's Government says that military intervention in the Islamist-held north is "inevitable" as the jihadists defied mediation efforts and cut off the hand of a thief who stole a motorbike.

The west African nation's embattled interim authorities said the act showed the limited use of dialogue in finding a solution to win back the north which has been under Islamist rule for over four months.

"Every day, while efforts for a negotiated solution are increasing, the practices of terrorists and drug traffickers cloaked in a false religious veil lend weight to the inevitable nature of the military option," a statement read.

The grisly punishment - the extremists' first reported amputation - came a day after Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) top mediators made an unprecedented visit to the north for talks with Islamist leaders.

"Yes, I confirm it. We applied sharia in Ansongo yesterday," a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), Mohamed Ould Abdine, said.

"The hand of a thief was cut off. Sharia demands it."

Last Sunday protesters swarmed the main square in Gao to prevent Islamists from cutting off the hand of another thief, but Abdine said the sentence had only been put off.

"We will do the same thing in Gao soon."

Last month, in Aguelhok, another armed Islamist group, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), publicly stoned an unmarried couple to death. They have also forced women to cover up and whipped smokers and drinkers.

In Timbuktu, Ansar Dine members have destroyed World Heritage-listed shrines from the 15th century, denouncing them as idolatrous.

The Islamist groups - which security experts say are acting under the aegis of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - seized key northern cities in the chaos that followed a coup d'etat in the capital Bamako on March 22. The takeover was spearheaded by Tuareg rebels seeking an independent state for their nomadic desert tribe, but the extremists have pushed them aside and seek an Islamic state in the zone, an area larger than France or Texas.

Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly met the chief Ecowas mediator, Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, on Wednesday and said he would accept mediation efforts, adding: "God will help everybody find what they're after."

However, the group's spokesman Senda Ould Boumama yesterday told an Islamist website that it planned to unite the country and create an Islamic state.

Boumama said Ansar Dine's priority was "the application of sharia law, education, preaching and training of future generations in Islamic precepts and moral values".

UN leader Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against the extremists, a suggestion which was backed by the Malian government.

Ecowas has 3300 troops ready to deploy in Mali, and the UN Security Council is ready to approve this, but is awaiting a formal request from Bamako.

Finalising these plans is expected to be on top of the agenda at a five-day meeting by representatives from Ecowas, the EU, African Union, UN, and Malian Government which starts in Bamako today.


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