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Embattled Mali begs France for help as Islamist militants make inroads

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The African nation of Mali, embattled after months from Islamic militants has beseeched France for military help. Islamist rebels drove out the Malian army in the strategic northern town of Konna this week. The occasion marked the fiercest fighting since militants took control of the country's north nine months ago.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Konna, about 375 miles northeast of the capital Bamako was a major setback to government forces. The government had previously declared that they were making headway against the alliance of al Qaeda-linked rebels.

The U.N. Security Council "express their grave concern over the reported military movements and attacks by terrorist and extremist groups in the north of Mali, in particular their capture of the city of Konna," in a statement.

"This serious deterioration of the situation threatens even more the stability and integrity of Mali, and constitutes a direct threat to international peace and security," the council said after the meeting, called by France.

The U.N. also called for the restoration of democracy in Mali and urged U.N. members "to provide assistance to the Malian Defense and Security Forces in order to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations and associated groups."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice described the request for help from Mali, which was sent to the Security Council: "It wasn't specific, but it basically said, 'Help, France.'"

The west is eager to dislodge the Islamists from a desert zone of northern Mali, an area larger than France, which was captured in April. There is widespread concern that the are could be used as a launch pad to stage attacks.

Konna was the last buffer between the rebels and Mopti, about 30 miles south, the main town in the region and is widely seen as the gateway to the country's north.

Islamist fighters reportedly marched through the town in triumph through Konna's center. The fighters pledge that they would push on to take Mopti and its neighboring town of Sevare.

"We took the barracks and we control all of the town of Konna," MUJWA rebel group spokesman Oumar Ould Hamaha told Reuters. "The soldiers fled, abandoning their heavy weapons and armoured vehicles."

There is now widespread panic in Mopti and Sevare, the latter the site of a large military barracks and airport. The towns lie at the crossroads between Mali's desert north and the greener, more populous south.

"We have received the order to evacuate," said the local head of a U.S. aid agency. "We have already pulled all our personnel and material out of Mopti."

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