Citizens of Mopti, Mali have created makeshift training camps in efforts to roll back Islamist militant forces which control most of north Mali, according to the New York Times.
Though the camps lack weapons and necessary military instruction, the trainees – almost numbering 4,000 – are still determined to defeat the Islamists and reclaim their towns.
The news comes as children’s rights groups told reporters on Sunday that armed militias in north Mali, including Islamist militants are recruiting children from Mali, Niger and Senegal, and from the age of nine years-old and up, into their ranks and exploiting them as soldiers, scouts, spies and sex slaves, reports AFP.
Islamists had earlier given similar accounts to AFP confirming Sunday’s statements, admitting they were recruiting children of different ages throughout the Sahel region “to fight in the name of God”.
On Sunday in Gao, a northern Mali under the control of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), AFP also reports the attack of radio journalist Abdoul Malick Maiga. Maiga was beaten after broadcasting reports of a protest in the city also on Sunday.
The protests came in response to MUJAO’s own radio broadcast announcing the public punishment of one of its recruits accused of stealing weapons. Protestors demanded the thief’s release and stormed the public square in which the punishment, amputation of the hand in accordance with Islamic Sharia, was to take place, eventually preventing the act.
It would have marked as the first such amputation to be implemented in Mali. Meanwhile, the small town of Aguelhok in the Kidal region witnessed the first incident of a stoning to death of an unmarried couple last Sunday.
Islamist forces came to prominence in the region after the military coup that took place in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north of the country and providing the Tuareg-assisted Islamist rebels the opportunity to assume power. Since their take-over of Northern Mali, the ethnic separatist Tuareg group has been largely side-lined by the various Islamist groups who now control the region, especially three main north Mali cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.
A deadline of 31 July imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the formation of a unity government capable of properly handling the present crisis was missed, only to be postponed again. Insistent on solving the crisis in Mali since the early days of its escalation in March, ECOWAS is currently trying to send 3,000 military troops to northern Mali to quell the Islamist take-over. This intervention is, however facing its own delays. It requires first a resolution by the United Nations Security Council, and preferably a formal request from the national unity government which is yet to be formed, according to AFP.