Indians safe in Mali

Accra (Ghana) Jan 27 (IANS) As French-led international forces in Mali press on with their offensive against Islamist rebels, the situation has not had any impact on Indians living in the West African nation, an Indian official said. There are about 200 people of Indian origin living across Mali.

The Indian embassy in Bamako says the community is small but growing. Indians started coming to the country about 12-15 years ago.

"The situation has not had any impact on Indians living in the country," Ashish Mehta, Charges d'Affaires of the Indian embassy, told IANS on phone from Bamako.

Habibatou Gologo, a representative of international aid agency OXFAM, told IANS via phone that "Bamako has not been affected in any way... every aspect of life is going on normally".

"Bamako is generally calm and everything is going on smoothly, foreigners are going about their duties normally," Gologo said.

Mali, a French colony until 1960, has a population of around 16 million. The country has been in turmoil since a military coup last March. Islamists seized a vast area of northern Mali and have tried to impose strict Islamic Sharia law.

France sent troops to Mali earlier this month to quell the regional Al Qaeda-led militia.

Around 3,000 French troops are engaged in the operation. France has 2,150 soldiers on Malian soil, with 1,000 more troops supporting the operation from elsewhere. African states have pledged nearly 5,700 troops to support French and Malian forces in their campaign.

Nigeria has also deployed a battalion, and is leading the African International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). Other troops have also been mobilised from Benin, Senegal and Togo to meet the agreed envisaged AFISMA strength of 3,300 personnel.

The UN has, however, said there was a need to increase the number of personnel if the AFISMA is to engage effectively in offensive operations.

It also warned that the situation risks infiltration and destabilisation in countries bordering Mali.

The UN said its humanitarian agencies are working to meet the growing needs of a crisis that has forced around 350,000 people to flee their homes.

OXFAM said the insecurity in Mali and northern Nigeria was disrupting food supply to around 13 million people in West Africa.

"The disruption of local and cross-border food markets have limited food supplies and increased prices," OXFAM said.

Markets along the border with Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, which provide rice for all the neighbouring countries, have been hit, it said.

The report said "traditional migration routes used by pastoralists have been disrupted".

The conflict has caused livestock to be herded in large numbers in many places where fodder, food and water levels are dangerously low and which threaten the livestock's survival, it said.

(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at fkokutse@hotmail.com)

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