As Troubles In Mali Mount, New President Goes Shopping

image004With a new outbreak of fierce fighting reported in northern Mali’s contested Tuareg lands, reports that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has purchased a $40 million presidential jet have not gone down well with aid donors.

Purchase of the Boeing 737 stunned the foreign donors who were attending a meeting in Bamako last week – a year to the day after Mali received a massive $4.1 billion grant from 55 countries and institutions.

But Malian prime minister Moussa Mara, taking the donors head on, charged that the donor funds were being earmarked for unknown projects and only a small portion was landing in the Treasury or in government ministries.

“For the sake of the transparency you are all attached to, we demand that our concerned partners inform us of the use of the money and its impact. We want the remaining money to be used in a way that is totally traceable,” he said.

Most of the pledged money has been spent through established international aid organizations that have revived existing programs for sanitation, health, education and food security. But continuing security fears in the underdeveloped north, where the government has failed to initiate meaningful peace talks with rebel groups, mean much aid is still spent in the south of Mali, which was never occupied.

At least a quarter of a million northerners are still displaced or living in refugee camps in neighboring countries.

This weekend, the Prime Minister visited the northern city of Kidal, where deadly clashes have broken out between the army and Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

At least 36 people died in Kidal and over 30 kidnapped as MNLA rebels fought troops over the weekend and during Prime Minister Mara’s visit.

MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid told the BBC those seized- four civil servants and 24 Malian soldiers – were being held because the Malian government had failed to live up to its commitment to move towards peace talks.

President Keita came to power in a European Union-funded election. His expensive foreign trips, political appointments that included his son and three members of his wife’s family, and his failure to travel to the embattled far north of his country, have worried foreign diplomats.

Meanwhile, the United States warned this week that northern Mali risked sliding back into war and called for the government and Tuareg separatists to return to talks after deadly weekend clashes in in a traditional rebel stronghold.

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