TIMBUKTU, Mali Mali’s military detained eight Arab men last week in Timbuktu, raising fears of further reprisals against the region’s Arab minority whose members are accused of having supported the al-Qaida-linked groups which overran northern Mali last year.
Family members and witnesses late Saturday confirmed the Thursday arrests, carried out in what appeared to be a systematic sweep of the city’s Arab neighborhoods. Most of them were thrown into the bed of a pickup truck and covered with a tarp. The eight were among the last Arabs still living in this northern outpost. Hundreds of others have fled to the neighboring nations of Algeria and Mauritania, where they are living in refugee camps.
Seventy-year-old Ali Ould Mohamed Kalbali was trembling when he was forced by Malian soldiers out of his boutique, stocked with nothing more than a few boxes of sardines and mostly-empty cartons of soap, said eyewitnesses, including his son, Ibrahim Ould Ali. An online petition was being circulated by friends and supporters, showing a picture of the elderly man, his face framed by a grey beard.
Salt seller Mohamed Ould Dahama was at home with his brother, when the soldiers came and asked for him, said his son Boubacar Sadigh.
“The soldiers came in a car on which they had installed a tarp cover. It stopped in front of our door. One of the soldiers said, ‘Mohamed, we have a question that we want to ask you.’ Once he went outside, the soldiers threw themselves on him to make him get in the car,” said the son.
They then forced the brother, Dana Ould Dahama, to come out.
“I was repairing shoes in my shop when I saw the soldiers who forced Dana out of his house. I could see them through the door of my boutique. His hands had been tied with his turban and two soldiers picked him up and threw him in the back of the car,” said Ibrahim Ag Mahmoud, a cobbler in the Abaradjou neighborhood.
Mohamed Ould Mohamed Lamine, a merchant, was grabbed while walking in the street, said his wife, Mariam Mint Elbakaye.
Finally four truck drivers were also grabbed from the Abaradjou neighborhood the same day, said a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety. An Associated Press reporter saw their idle trucks.
Col. Keiba Sangare, in charge of operations for the region of Timbuktu, refused to confirm or deny that the eight had been arrested, and said only: “The gendarmerie is carrying out an investigation.”