Some 5,000 fighters signed up to a disarmament program in Mali’s conflict-plagued central region including suspected ex-jihadists, before a January 31 deadline, an official said Wednesday, February 7.
Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga announced in December the creation of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process to boost defense and security in the region.
“By the deadline of January 31 … 5,000 fighters were registered as carrying weapons of war,” DDR commission president Zahabi Ould Sidy Mohamed told AFP.
Of these, 600 had already handed in their arms.
The group included “former jihadists and members of armed groups,” Mohamed said.
In the next two weeks, officials will determine which state body the men can be best reassigned to, with the armed and security forces among the options.
Mohamed said that with the help of NGOs, those among the men suspected of having committed human rights violations will be identified and “cannot in any way be integrated into the Malian army.”
The recent unrest in the Sahel began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
The insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali, and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Large swathes of the country remain outside government control, despite a 2015 peace accord designed to isolate the Islamists.
The French mission evolved into the current Operation Barkhane, which has roughly 4,500 French personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the region.
With reporting from AFP