The Malian Armed Forces have denied allegations that the Islamic State (IS) Jihadist group, whose presence there has grown since French forces departed the nation in August, is about to take control of the north-eastern Menaka region.
“This is not true. These are falsehoods, attempts at propaganda, attempts to destabilise the Malian armed forces… Menaka is not under siege, less still Tessit or Ansongo [in neighbouring Gao region],” FAMa’s public relations director-general Col Souleymane Dembele said in a briefing on Monday.
Additionally, he claimed that the army had been constantly monitoring the area.
The comments come at the same time as major trade unions in Gao are preparing to go on a two-day strike in protest of the military government’s ostensible passivity against the rise of Islamist militant attacks.
The fact that there are almost daily allegations of kidnappings, armed robberies, and cattle theft by criminal groups operating in the unstable borderlands makes matters worse.
An audio clip apparently from the leader of a well-known pro-government militia, the Self-Defence Group of Imghad Tuaregs and Their Allies (Gatia), reportedly calling members of the Tuareg population in Mali and surrounding nations to join the fight against the IS, surfaced on Monday.
The IS has been accused of massacring hundreds of civilians in Menaka since March, and Tuareg militants have been on the front lines of that conflict.
Thousands of inhabitants were forced to evacuate Menaka late last month as a result of violent confrontations between IS members and rivals from Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaeda affiliate.
The army has been supported by Russian mercenaries who came in December, but the rapid departure of French forces put an end to nearly ten years of attempts to stabilize the Sahel nation.
Large portions of Mali have fallen out of government control since the rebellion began in 2012.