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Malians In The South Want Islamists Out Of The North

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In the southern part of Mali, which includes the capital, Bamako, it's not hard to find people who are angry about the Islamist militants who have taken over the country's north.

But there's little reason to believe the Islamists will be ousted soon. The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet this week to discuss plans for a 3,300-strong regional force to enter Mali. But it is unlikely any sort of military operation will take place in the near future.

The West African nation was split in two earlier this year, after a military coup toppled the government in Bamako. That left a power vacuum in the north, and the Islamist militants seized a Texas-sized swath of the nation.

On a recent day, 62-year-old Aramata Maiga sat huddled with other women displaced from the north, in a small hall in the center of the capital, sharing a pot of rice. Maiga fled the northern city of Gao when rebels stormed into her home.

"I left Gao because they are killing people over there," Maiga says. "They are killing soldiers, they are killing citizens. They don't make a difference among the people. They are killing everyone."

Maiga owned a shop in Gao, where she sold women's clothing. The rebels took everything, leaving only the chairs. She now shares a room in Bamako with her five children.

"We are living in hell here in Bamako," she says. "I am even ready to go and fight myself now just to free my place."

More than 400,000 people have fled cities in the north of Mali since the coup in March.

The minority Tuareg separatists, nomadic herders who have fought for independence for more than 50 years, initially took control of the region. But they were soon pushed out by rebel groups linked with al-Qaida who swept through the vast, cattle-herding desert. The Islamists have been accused of looting, raping and imposing strict forms of Sharia law.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the region is a haven that could allow terrorists to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.

Mariam Cisse left her 10 children in the northern city of Timbuktu. She now lives with nearly 40 other displaced people at a relative's house, high on a dusty hilltop in the suburbs of Bamako.

"The children are malnourished with lots of sicknesses," Cisse says. "When the rebels arrived, they raped the girls and took them into the bush to spend months there. There's nobody there to fight them. We are there on our own."

Different militia groups say they are intent on starting a civilian rebellion. Disorganized and underfunded, they say if the international community won't step in, and the Malian army can't or won't act, they will go it alone. The people of Mali are also tired of waiting.

"If there is a well-organized force with good training [and] with the right weapons, I think personally I would be with them," said a mother of three who didn't want to give her name.

Like many in Mali, she fears speaking openly, but says it is time for Malians to take action themselves.

"They have weapons, and if I have to take a weapon and be in front of them and fight, why should I not do it?" she says. "This is my country; I don't have any other country. I don't have anywhere else to go."

The woman says she knows other people, and not just those from the north, who feel the same way. Many in the capital say they are prepared to go to war to reunite the country.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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