Mauritania warns of fallout from Mali crisis

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Mauritania warned Monday that the fallout from a military strike against the Islamist extremists controlling northern Mali could be devastating and affect the troubled country’s neighbours.

“This country which has for a long time been seen as a model of democracy is like a volcano about to erupt,” national assembly president Messaoud Ould Boulkheir said a day after West African leaders gave the green light to sending 3,300 troops to northern Mali to wrest control from the Islamists.

“If this volcano awakens, it will dump incandescent ashes over its neighbours,” he told parliament.

“As we share a common border and since the interests of our peoples are closely interwoven, our country cannot just stand by,” he added.

Following Sunday’s summit of West African leaders in the Nigerian capital Abuja, experts cautioned that military intervention would still be months away.

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Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met at the summit to set out a blueprint for military action in Mali’s north, but would not rule out dialogue to resolve the crisis — even though they said force might be necessary given the extremist threat.

Mali rapidly imploded after a coup in Bamako in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict Islamic law, meting out punishments including public stonings and floggings and destroying World Heritage sites they considered idolatrous.

Transitional authorities in the Malian capital Bamako waited until September to call for outside help to retake the territory, with leaders like Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, West Africa’s lead mediator in the crisis, favouring dialogue, and others like Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou the use of force.