Islamist fighters have had the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu under a blockade for several days, local officials said Monday 21 August 2023.
The jihadists “have blocked all the roads” in and out of the northern city on the edge of the Sahara, one local lawmaker told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Nothing is getting through between Timbuktu and the south,” he added, saying connections along the nearby Niger River were also cut off.
“Everything’s expensive in Timbuktu because products are no longer getting into the city. The jihadists have blocked the roads. It’s really difficult,” said a city hall official, who also requested anonymity.
One petrol station owner said price increases were taking a toll. “A litre of petrol has gone from 845 CFA francs (around $1.40) to 1,250 CFA francs in a week,” he said.
Earlier this month, social media messages attributed to a commander from the Al Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) said it had “declared war” on the Timbuktu region.
The messages warned trucks from Algeria, Mauritania and elsewhere in the region not to enter the city. The group also said that trucks that did not heed the warning would be targeted.
The threats came in the month that saw the UN peacekeeping mission for Mali bring forward its withdrawal from a base in the country’s north, citing the perilous security situation.
The country, which has seen three coups in a decade, is ruled by a military junta that has been pressing for the MINUSMA UN mission to leave.
MINUSMA, whose mission began in 2013 after separatist and jihadist rebellions broke out in northern Mali the previous year, has since pulled out of two bases near Timbuktu, Ber and Goundam, transferring them to Malian control.
But the unrest has continued unabated. Timbuktu is one of several large northern cities which fell first under Tuareg rebel control and then into the hands of Salafist fighters following a 2012 insurrection.
A year later, French and Malian troops took the city. But the unrest has continued as jihadist groups expand their influence beyond central Mali and into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
For the time being, the UN mission maintains a camp in Timbuktu itself, but its troops are due to quit by year’s end, even as much of the country remains outside state control.