Northern Mali residents: life is hell under Islamist rule
BAMAKO - Residents of northern Mali have denounced atrocities committed by armed Islamist groups who took control of the territory six months ago, during a two-day forum in Bamako.
"For us in Gao, it really is hell today. They cut off hands, they cut off feet. Nobody is free," Sorry Maiga, a member of a youth association in one of the big three northern towns, said after the meeting ended on Thursday night. Gao, like Timbuktu and Kidal, is occupied by the Islamists.
A woman resident of the north also said life was "a real hell". "I am Muslim, from now on, we wear the veil and it is the complete veil. I don't understand, Mali is a secular state," she added.
The Bamako meeting was organised by the Coalition for Mali, which includes several associations and political parties.
Three armed groups, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam) have occupied the north since March and April, following a chaotic coup in Bamako.
These groups brutally apply their hardline version of sharia Islamic law, which they want to impose on the whole of the west African country.
The Malian government has formally asked that the UN Security Council authorise a force led by the regional bloc ECOWAS to retake the north.