Meltdown in Mali as troops clash among themselves (39258)

Feb. 12 (GIN) – Divided loyalties among troops have created the sad fact of Malian soldiers and paratroopers fighting each other.

In Bamako, heavily armed Malian soldiers – so-called Green Berets – surrounded a base housing rival paratroopers – ‘Red Berets’ – where a firefight the day before killed two adolescents and wounded 13 people.

The paratroopers are loyal to ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure, ousted in a March 2012 coup, and were protesting an order absorbing them into other units to be sent to the front.

“I don’t understand how at a moment when French and African forces are here to fight our war in our place … Malian soldiers, instead of going to fight at the front, are fighting over a stupid quarrel,” said Assa, a west Bamako resident, speaking to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Malian army was accused of murdering Tuaregs and Arabs in revenge attacks that were denounced by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay. In Timbuktu, looting broke out after French-led forces reclaimed the city and a mob tried to lynch an alleged rebel supporter.

Other western countries are backing off earlier statements of support for foreign intervention. The Canadian foreign minister recently made it clear there were no plans to contribute soldiers.

“We’re not at the drop of a hat going to get into another Afghanistan,” minister John Baird told a parliamentary committee. “On one side we have a military government that took power in a coup last year and on the other side an al Qaeda affiliate. I don’t think Canada will sign on for a peacekeeping mission,” he said.

Finally, Nigerian troops sent to replace France are reportedly running into their own problems. According to a Nigerian newspaper, an inadequate supply of provisions is forcing the troops to solicit food from locals, under the guise of “courtesy calls” to community leaders in Mali.

“Our officers and men have resorted to begging locals for cows and rice for survival,” said an unnamed official.

A French request to handover all fighting troops to U.N. command is currently opposed by Mali’s interim government.