Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dissident Mali army unit to be dispersed by March: official

PHOTO | PASCAL GUYOT French soldiers next to the central police station, on February 11, 2013 in Gao, one day after Islamist gunmen battled French and Malian troops.

PHOTO | PASCAL GUYOT French soldiers next to the central police station, on February 11, 2013 in Gao, one day after Islamist gunmen battled French and Malian troops.  AFP

By AFP

BAMAKO

An elite army unit loyal to Mali's ousted president that has clashed repeatedly with rival units since his ouster will be dispersed by March, the crisis-torn country's government said Friday.

Most "Red Beret" paratroopers have refused to obey an order absorbing them into other units to fight Islamist rebels who seized northern Mali in the wake of a coup in March last year.

A week ago gunfire broke out as tensions boiled over between rival "Green Beret" units and paratroopers who had refused to budge from their base in the capital.

Interim prime minister Diango Cissoko said in a statement read on national TV that all parties involved had met and that the order "restructuring" the paratroopers would now be carried out.

One company will remain in the capital as instructors, while two others will be sent to the northern cities of Gao and Timbuktu, he said.

"The members of the Gao and Timbuktu companies will be deployed... for training and then engage in operations," he said.

The measures "shall take effect by March 1, 2013 at the latest", he added.

The order dispersing the paratroopers was issued after they staged a failed counter-coup against the Green Berets who had overthrown president Amadou Toumani Toure, himself a former Red Beret.

Fighting between feuding factions left some 20 people dead.

Toure was ousted on March 22 by a group of mid-level officers who blamed him for the army's humiliation by separatist rebels in the north.

In the chaotic aftermath of the coup, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists hijacked the separatist rebellion and took control of the north.

A French-led military intervention launched on January 11 has driven them from the towns they controlled.

But suicide attacks and guerrilla fighting have continued, and the deep divisions in the Malian army have raised fears it will not be able to restore security on its own.

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