Mali Unrest: British Embassy Staff Withdrawn By Foreign Office Amid Violence

Malian British Embassy Staff Withdrawn Amid Violence

The British embassy in Mali has been closed as violence in the country threatens to spill out of control.

Mali's under-fire military junta is coming under increased pressure from rebels, including the desert Tuaregs, who declared independence for what they call the northern state of "Azawad" after capturing several towns on Friday.

They have been fighting for independence for the northern half of Mali for decades. In a three-day period last weekend, just two weeks after a coup topped Mali's elected government, the Tuareg fighters seized the three largest cities in the north as soldiers dumped their uniforms and fled.

Their independence declaration cited 50 years of misrule by the country's southern-based administration and was issued by the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, whose army is led by a Tuareg colonel who fought in the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's military.

The group is secular and its stated aim is creating a homeland for the Tuareg people.But they were helped by an Islamist faction, Ansar Dine, which is now attempting to apply Sharia law to Mali's moderate north, including in the tourist destination of Timbuktu.

Their seizure this week of an area of desert larger than France has resulted out of a crisis threatening to engulf the government in the West African country.

"The Executive Committee of the MNLA calls on the entire international community to immediately recognise, in a spirit of justice and peace, the independent state of Azawad," said Billal Ag Acherif, secretary-general of the Tuareg-led MNLA group.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said "a unilateral declaration of independence which is not recognised by African states would not have any meaning for us". Mali became independent from France in 1960.

The Foreign Office (FCO) has recommended since 4 April that British nationals leave the country.

On Friday it said it was temporarily withdrawing British staff from the capital.

"Given the unstable and unpredictable situation in Mali and the continuing lack of constitutional rule, the UK has decided to temporarily withdraw its staff from its embassy in Bamako and temporarily suspend all in country services immediately, including consular assistance," the FCO said in a statement.

"Consular assistance will continue to be provided to British nationals from our Embassy in Dakar but the UK’s ability to help British nationals who chose to remain in Mali may become limited.

"We have recommended since 4 April that British nationals should leave Mali as soon as possible by commercial means."

The unrest in Timbuktu prompted Britons Neil Whitehead and Diane English, who ran a hotel in the area, to flee with the help of soldiers and nomads after the desert city fell to rebel forces.

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