Timbuktu under extremist siege – Mali officials

Local authorities reported on Monday that militants have imposed a blockade on the historic city of Timbuktu in Mali for multiple days.

According to an anonymous local legislator speaking to media, the extremists have effectively obstructed all access points to and from the northern city situated on the fringes of the Sahara desert.

“Nothing is getting through between Timbuktu and the south,” he added, saying connections along the nearby Niger River were also cut off.

“Everything’s expensive in Timbuktu because products are no longer getting into the city. The jihadists have blocked the roads. It’s really difficult,” said a city hall official, who also requested anonymity.

One petrol station owner said price increases were taking a toll.

“A litre of petrol has gone from 845 CFA francs (around $1.40) to 1,250 CFA francs in a week,” he said.

In the beginning of this month, messages circulated on social media that were attributed to a leader within the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an organization affiliated with Al Qaeda, saying that the group had announced a state of war in the Timbuktu region.

The messages warned against the entry of trucks from Algeria, Mauritania, and other neighboring regions into the city.

Additionally, the group stated that trucks disregarding this warning would be targeted.

These threats emerged during the same month in which the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali accelerated its withdrawal from a northern base in response to the increasingly hazardous security environment.

Having experienced three coups within the span of a decade, the nation is presently under the governance of a military junta that has been advocating for the departure of the UN MINUSMA mission.

Commencing in 2013 following separatist and militant uprisings in northern Mali the preceding year, the MINUSMA mission has subsequently withdrawn from two bases in close proximity to Timbuktu – Ber and Goundam – relinquishing their control to the Malian authorities.

But the unrest has continued unabated.

Timbuktu is among several significant northern cities that initially came under the authority of Tuareg rebels and subsequently fell into the possession of militants in the aftermath of a 2012 uprising.

In the subsequent year, French and Malian forces recaptured the city. Nonetheless, the turmoil has persisted as militant factions extend their sway beyond central Mali, encroaching into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Currently, the UN mission sustains a camp within Timbuktu; however, its troops are scheduled to depart by the end of the year, despite substantial portions of the nation still evading government authority.

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