Mali coup is 'spill-over' from EU-led war in Libya

28.03.12 @ 09:41

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - As EU countries face calls to arm rebels in Syria, security experts have noted that the putsch in Mali is partly a consequence of the EU-and-US-sponsored war in Libya.

  • Ex-Gaddafi mercenaries using Libyan arms want to carve out a new domain in north Mali (Photo: BRC)

"What we are seeing in Mali is one of the peripheral, spill-over effects of the removal of [late Libyan leader] Gaddafi," a senior EU diplomat dealing with African security told this website on Tuesday (27 March).

He explained that soldiers in the west African country seized power because they were unhappy that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure was sending badly-prepared conscripts to fight losing battles against Touareg tribes in north Mali.

The Touaregs launched a rebellion in January under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. The EU contact said many of them used to work as Gaddafi mercenaries and have come back from Libya with new weapons after looting arsenals and picking up some of the equipment air-dropped for Libyan rebels by anti-Gaddafi-coalition countries, such as France and Qatar.

The Mali putsch leader, captain Amadou Sanogo, was himself trained by the Pentagon and wears a US marine corps pin on his lapel.

The EU source noted that the "Mother's Coup" began after protests by mothers of conscript casualties in the town of Kati, 15km outside Mali's capital, Bamaku. He added that the junta on Tuesday reopened some border crossings mainly to import beer to keep its soldiers happy.

For his part, Gilles Yabi, a Senegal-based analyst for the think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), told this website: "There's a direct connection between the situation in Mali and the fall of Gaddafi. Libya's borders have not been controlled at all and the flow of weapons out of Libya have not been controlled at all."

The ICG says the Mali coup is a "disaster" because it will help the Touaregs, as well as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - an Islamist insurgent force also in north Mali - to establish power bases. The EU's counter-terrorism supremo, Gilles de Kerchove, has frequently described AQIM as a prominent threat to European security.

On Libya, the EU source said European diplomats are scared to use roads outside Tripoli and Benghazi due to roaming armed gangs. An EU foreign relations spokesman noted that they fly between the two cities, but said this is mainly to save time.

The Libya spill-over comes amid EU and US soul-searching on how to handle the Syria crisis.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Council, want the West to give arms to Sunni Muslim rebels to help them fight President Bashar Assad's tank and artillery brigades.

With international talks on Syria to resume in Istanbul on 2 April, another security expert told EUobserver that outside forces have already intervened.

Alastair Crooke, a British former MI6 officer who now runs an NGO in Beirut, said Sunni Muslim Gulf states are bringing in Western-made communications equipment and former anti-Gaddafi Libyan fighters into Syria via Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.

"Communications equipment seized [from rebels] in [the Syrian town of] Homs is really state-of-the-art stuff that allows you to make encrypted calls over the Syrian system without being identified ... I am sure of those details," he said.

Crooke poured cold water on reports that Nato countries' special forces are operating in Syria, however.

"It would be too much of a risk to actually put, for instance, CIA officers in Syria. It's not like Libya, where there was a solid base in the Benghazi port and airport and helicopters from ships could take people in and pull them back. If you put serving military personnel into the field you have to be able to exfiltrate them. But if you tried to fly into Syria from Lebanon or Turkey, the Syrians would shoot you down."

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