The Mali junta issued a statement Tuesday accusing rebels in the northern town of Gao of grave human rights violations, particularly the kidnap and rape of local women and girls. Last month the military overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure [Al Jazeera profile] and ended 20 years of democracy because they felt Toure had failed to properly respond to rebel attacks, made primarily by Tuareg nomads, in the northern part of the country. However the situation worsened over the weekend [AFP report] when Tuareg rebels took control of the three main northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, and pushed out the occupying Malian military forces [AP reports]. Lieutenant Amadou Konare, spokesman for the newly formed National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, blamed the violence on the Tuareg nationalist group Azawad National Liberation Movement, which seeks regional autonomy in northern Mali, and the Islamist rebel groups Ansar Dine and the more dangerous Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which want to impose Islamic sharia law in the region.
Mali has experienced military turmoil since Taureg rebels began attacking Malian soldiers [Al Jazeera report] in January. On Sunday, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led Malian soldiers in last month's military coup [JURIST report], announced he would reinstate the country's 1992 Constitution [text, PDF, in French] and create a transitional government to hold elections. Last week the acting head of the EU delegation in Mali, Bertrand Soret, met with Sanogo and urged a quick return to constitutional order [JURIST report]. Soret indicated that the EU expected the Malian military to find a solution to the current crisis, and that he has asked to have access to government ministers that have been detained by the military. Also last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] expressed concern over political and social instability [JURIST report] in Mali, and how ongoing fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels will affect Malians forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Last month the UNHCR reported that more than 80,000 people had fled Mali [press release] to escape the fighting.