MALI: Some aid suspend in Kidal amid violence

Saturday, April 5, 2008

With fighting on 2 April between Tuareg rebels and government soldiers 20 km south of Kidal on the road to Gao, some aid agencies are suspending activities.

“We have put our operations on hold and are watching developments closely before we decide whether or not to close them down altogether,’ Patricia Hoorelbeke, head of the non-governmental organisation (NGO)’s Action Contre la Faim, told IRIN on 3 April.

It runs a large nutrition programme in the north.

Violence escalated on 20 March with rebels breaking the July 2006 peace accord by taking more than 30 Malian soldiers hostage. Rebel leader Ag Bahanga released the soldiers on 27 March and a new ceasefire was signed on 3 April in Triopli, Libya, but aid officials are waiting to see whether the peace will hold.

Tuareg militants have been involved in sporadic fighting in the region for decades, demanding autonomy and a larger share of the regions’ resources.

While some aid agencies in the area have halted their programmes others continue to function.

The UN’s World Food Programme has restricted movement in and around Gao and Kidal, though this has not affected its operations. “With the help of the governor we have still been able to deliver food to schools expect in places where rebels are not active,” the head of WFP in Mali, Alice-Martin Daihirou, told IRIN,

“Our food warehouses are in Kidal town, which has not yet been affected, so we are still able to work,” she added.

UN staff are prohibited from going to high-risk zones around Kidal town and may only travel with government authorisation and if the mission is absolutely necessary, using military escorts, although Daihirou said, “Escorts can make you more of a target.”

Oxfam refuses to use military escorts as it is against its policy. It is one of several aid workers based in Gao, 340 km south of Kidal, that are operating with extra caution, although the area has not yet been directly affected by the latest violence.

“We are tightly controlling our movements [in and around Gao] and are taking more precautions and information-gathering before setting out but we are still able to carry out operations,” Oxfam’s head of operations Gilles Marion told IRIN