Malians march for "liberation" of rebel-held north
By Bate Felix
BAMAKO, April 10 (Reuters) - Around 2,000 Malians marched through the capital Bamako on Tuesday appealing for foreign help to dislodge Tuareg-led rebels in the north, saying a humanitarian crisis was looming and civilians had been abused.
Rebels capitalised on the disarray after a March 22 coup to seize the three northern regions they claim as their desert homeland of "Azawad", a secession bid that has been shunned by Mali's neighbours and foreign capitals from Paris to Washington.
But while coup leaders have since agreed to hand power back to civilians, there is no prospect of a push to win back the northern desert zone larger than France, which analysts fear could be a haven for Islamist groups and al Qaeda agents.
"We are asking the international community to carry out its duty and secure the Malian territory," said 28-year-old Mahamadou Dioura, one of the organisers of the march.
"During the taking of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao nearly everything was destroyed - hospitals, medical centres, water supplies," he said of pillaging in the main towns during the rebel advance just over a week ago.
The 15-state ECOWAS grouping of West African countries is preparing an intervention force of up to 3,000 troops but has said its mandate is to prevent any further rebel advances rather than win back the lost ground. Ex-colonial power France has offered logistical support but ruled out sending troops.
The destruction of medical infrastructure and pillaging of supplies stored locally by aid agencies preparing to tackle the latest food emergency in the drought-prone region has added to the predicament of local people.
Eyewitnesses have in the past few days reported victims of traffic accidents being left to die in the road and women dying during childbirth because of the lack of medical care. Continued...