Civilians killed by insurgent shellfire in Mali’s Timbuktu
Two people have died and five others were wounded by shells fired on the northern Malian city of Timbuktu, the army has said, a month and a half into an insurgent blockade on the area.
“The city of Timbuktu has come under terrorist shellfire this afternoon,” the military said in a statement on Thursday, adding a “provisional toll” of two dead and five wounded. Two sources had previously told the AFP news agency three people had died.
The impact of the attack
The attack was the latest in a series of violent incidents that have plagued Timbuktu since August, when Al Qaeda-linked terror groups declared “war in the Timbuktu region”, warning trucks from neighbouring regions not to enter the city.
A month and a half later, tens of thousands of inhabitants remain almost completely cut off from the world, facing food shortages, rising prices, and limited access to health care and education.
“We are living in fear and uncertainty. We don’t know when the next shell will fall or what will happen to us,” said Fatouma Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu who lost her brother in the attack.
The response of the authorities
The Malian authorities have condemned the attack and vowed to restore security and stability in Timbuktu, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a historic centre of Islamic learning and culture.
“The government strongly condemns this cowardly and barbaric act that aims to sow terror and despair among the population,” said Prime Minister Choguel Maiga in a televised address.
He said the army was reinforcing its presence and operations in the region, and called for national and international solidarity to support the people of Timbuktu.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) also denounced the attack and expressed its condolences to the victims and their families.
“MINUSMA remains committed to supporting the Malian people in their quest for peace and stability,” said El-Ghassim Wane, the head of MINUSMA.
The background of the conflict
Timbuktu has been at the centre of a long-running conflict that erupted in 2012, when Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants seized control of northern Mali, imposing a harsh version of Islamic law.
A French-led military intervention in 2013 drove them out of major towns, but they have continued to launch attacks and ambushes on security forces, peacekeepers, and civilians.
A peace agreement signed in 2015 between the government and some rebel groups has failed to end the violence, which has spread to neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger.
The international community has been supporting Mali’s efforts to restore peace and stability, but the country has also faced political turmoil, with two coups d’etat in less than a year.
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