Timbuktu siege: Mali 'at risk of civil war'
STORY: It's been more than a decade since jihadist militants captured Mali's Timbuktu.
But the city, a centuries-old center of Islamic learning, is again under siege - raising fears that Mali is descending into chaos.
Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents began a blockade of Timbuktu in August - cutting road access and shutting off river and air routes.
Then the bombing began.
On September 21, witnesses said rockets hit a hospital - killing two children.
Timbuktu businessman Sory Toure says the shelling is what worries people most.
"This creates a real psychosis and leaves its mark on people's minds. I, myself, have this fear inside me. What's much more serious is the fact that it affects people's psychology."
Back in 2012, a Tuareg rebellion was overtaken by jihadists who captured Timbuktu and pressed south towards the capital Bamako.
The advance was halted by French forces and United Nations peacekeepers.
But there will be no such intervention now.
Mali's military rulers have severed ties with France and kicked its troops out of the country.
In June, it ordered the U.N.'s 13,000-strong force to leave.
Since then, the al Qaeda affiliated JNIM has launched its offensive in central Mali, fighting has resumed between the army and Tuareg rebels from the north, Islamic State-allied insurgents have continued to carry out attacks in the east.
Russia's Wagner Group, which has sent 1,000 mercenaries to support the junta, has failed to fill the gap.
"It's hard to see who might come to Mali's rescue this time."
Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer foundation, said there is a "risk of civil war".
"People are obviously panicked or getting worried. Many are leaving. And it might get worse because the U.N., the peacekeeping force, is still there, helping to achieve a bit of stability. But once they're out, you know, violence might really spike."
More than 650 people have died in conflict in Mali in the two months after the U.N. began its withdrawal.
That's a 40% rise over the previous two months, the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project said.
Mali's authorities, who consolidated power in coups in 2020 and 2021, did not respond to specific requests for comment.
On Monday (October 2), however, the army released a statement describing September as a "turbulent" month and said it would continue fighting its enemies.
After being confirmed as interim president in May 2021, coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita had this to say.
"We had to choose between the stability of Mali and chaos, and we chose stability."
Instead, with the country internationally isolated, Mali now appears to be in meltdown.
And in a region already reeling from several military coups, the violence creates a further risk of instability.
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