Mali moved a step closer to being broken in two on Sunday when al-Qaeda-linked Islamists and Tuareg rebels declared the nation’s north an independent country to be ruled according to sharia law.
By Mike Pflanz, West Africa Correspondent
The announcement, from Ansar Dine and the Tuareg MNLA group, came as the country’s interim president remained in a Paris hotel recovering from an assault in his private office last week.
Diplomats and Mali’s neighbours fear that the country, once a beacon for democratic stability in West Africa, is poised to plunge further into crisis following a coup two months ago.
The “declaration of independence” for the northern half of Mali, Africa’s sixth-largest country, came late on Saturday.
Timbuktu, the history trading centre and seat of Tuareg learning, now lies in the disputed territory, to be known as Azawad, which is almost the size of France.
“The two movements have created the transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad,” the groups, which have been controlling the area for the past two months, said in their “protocol agreement”.
“We are all in favour of the independence of Azawad … We all accept Islam as the religion,” they said, adding that Islam would also be the main source of law.
Malian mercenaries returning from Libya after the death of Col Gaddafi strengthened the MNLA’s leadership, swelled its infantry ranks and boosted its arsenal.