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Conflict

Malians fear for their families in the north

While French military intervention continues to enjoy public support, some Malians believe it can't solve all their problems. There's concern about the fate of families living in the north.

Mama Lah and his friends are standing in front of "Hotel L'Amitie", a huge and ugly block in central Bamako, waiting for the traffic light to turn red.

They then immediately dash to the waiting cars. Today the boys are not selling newspapers or the usual consumer items, but the tricolor flags which have become best sellers since the start of the French military intervention in Mali.

"These are the flags for the intervention of France" Mama Lah says proudly, waving a flag back and forth.

Like many others, Mama Lah welcomes the military intervention by the former colonial power.

"We are celebrating the French because they are fighting to remove the rebels in the north," he says.

A young boy with flags in his hands. Photo: Katrin Gänsler

French national flags have become best sellers in Bamako

He then winks to a motorist, who without delay digs 600 CFA Francs (90 euro cents, $1) out of his shirt pocket. That's the price for a small French national flag. If someone wants a bigger one, they will have to pay 2,000 CFA francs. Mama Lah nods in satisfaction.

The French military offensive has become a great business for Mama Lah.

"On average, I sell between 20 to 30 flags per day," he says. The Malian flag does not sell nearly as well, despite Mali's win in the ongoing Africa Cup.

"Vive la France"

Two weeks since the beginning of the military intervention in northern Mali, the French continue to enjoy public support. When Malians see foreigners, no matter which country they come from, they shout " Vive la France."

They have high hopes that the intervention can stop the atrocities in the north.

Armed soldiers walking REUTERS/Joe Penney (MALI - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS)

French troops have been fighting to dislodge Mali Islamists in northern Mali

34-year old Oumou Traore comes from Gao. She arrived in Bamako only a few weeks ago. She would prefer not to remember what has happened in her home town over the past few months.

"I have seen a lot in the north. I have seen these bandits committing rape and burglary. That was very arrogant."

A long war

Oumou hesitates to answer the question whether she herself was raped. But then the mother of two shakes her head and says that she was lucky.

"The Islamists always come back. The Liberation Movement of Azawad as well. They wore masks."

The worst thing is that no woman dared to go to the police. "The Islamists are everywhere, even at the police station. There is no public administration any more," she said.

These are the opponents the Malian army, together with France and the 3,300 ECOWAS soldiers, are fighting. Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member, also wants to send 2,000 troops to Mali. Several European countries have pledged logistical support. Germany has already sent two Transall transport planes to help ferry troops to Mali and intends to participate in an EU mission to train Malian troops.

Oumou Traoré.
Fotograf: Katrin Gänsler

Oumou Traore like many lives in fear for her family in the north

Analysts warn of a long war. "This is exactly what Malians don't want. Today they approve of the French army. But they are against long battles," said Alassane Dicko from the Association of Malian Refugees, which is caring for displaced persons from the north.

Dicko believes that military intervention alone cannot end the crisis in Mali. Even if the soldiers were to drive the Islamists out of the north, he believes that would not automatically solve all the problems in northern Mali.

The Tuereg rebellion has been an issue there for over 22 years. For decades the separatists have been complaining of discrimination. "This is what has to be changed," says Dicko.

Phone lines dead, roads blocked

Oumou Traore has other worries. Her older brother is still living with his family in Gao. She doesn't know what has happened to him. She hasn't been able to call him for the last four or five days. "The bandits have cut all the telephone lines," she says, trying to smile bravely.

"I am very scared for my family. I told them to come here. But that is not possible. The roads are blocked." Oumou hopes that her family will be able make it through the neighboring countries of Niger and Burkina Faso.

DW.DE