Japan closes Malian Embassy amid rising security fears
By Serge Daniel, AFPBAMAKO--Japan said Wednesday it would close its Malian Embassy over growing security fears amid a French-led assault against Islamists which has raised concerns of a backlash against ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs.
January 24, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
French and Malian troops were due to sweep the outskirts of towns recently recaptured from the al-Qaida-linked rebels for landmines they suspect the extremists left as they fled an air and ground assault by the armies.
Nearly two weeks after the U.N.-backed offensive was launched in Mali to dislodge the Islamists, the deteriorating situation prompted Japan to shut its embassy and evacuate key staff.
“After the French military advance the already unstable situation in Mali worsened further,” foreign ministry spokesman Yutaka Yokoi told reporters in Tokyo.
The decision came a day after Japan announced that at least seven of its citizens were killed in a hostage siege in Algeria, which neighbors Mali, after an attack by Islamists which they said was retaliation for the French offensive.
France swept to the aid of the ill-equipped Malian army on Jan. 11, as the extremists, which seized the vast north in April 2012, made a push south towards the capital Bamako.
The former colonial power has said it could deploy upwards of 2,500 troops which would eventually hand over control to a West African force of over 4,000 troops which will be boosted by 2,000 men pledged by Chad.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon hailed France's “courageous” intervention but expressed fears over the safety of humanitarian workers and U.N. employees on the ground.
He added the proposed African force in Mali needed “critical logistical support” to help it take over from French forces.
The fallout from the war, which experts have warned could be drawn out and complex, is causing concerns.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates up to a million people may flee their homes in coming months, and rights bodies have warned of the dire situation faced by those escaping fighting.
There are also increasing reports of attacks on light-skinned Tuareg or Arabs from Malian security forces.
Afraid of being targeted, his son has shaved his beard and stopped wearing his turban, traditionally sported by Tuaregs and Arabs who make up the bulk of the armed rebel groups.
Malian army chief General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele promised that any soldier involved in abuses would be brought to book.
Meanwhile international moves to aid the operations revved up with the U.S. military airlifting French troops and equipment from France into Mali.
Italy, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates are also providing transport planes or helicopters required to help move the African and French troops around Mali's vast expanses.
Mali's yearlong crisis began when Tuaregs returning from fighting Gadhafi's war in Libya, battle-hardened and with a massive arsenal, took up a decades-old rebellion for independence of the north which they call Azawad.
They allied with hard-line Islamists amid a political vacuum in Bamako after a March coup, and seized the key towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in a matter of days.