Mali sharia amputees and displaced speak out
Under the rebels’ harsh application of Islamic law, people accused of stealing have limbs cut off.
Maman Dedeou, 23, gently holds the rounded stump that now serves as his arm staring into the distance and remembering life before the moments that turned his world upside down.
Malian rebels in his hometown of Timbuktu cut off Dedeou’s right arm after he was accused of stealing.
“I was forced onto a chair and my arms were tightly bound to it,” he said.
“With a razor, one of the rebel leaders traced a circle on my forearm before chopping it off with a sharp knife,” he recalled with tears welling in his eyes.
“What they did to me was unfair. I did no wrong. I wish I could go back and avenge for what they did to me.”
Such amputations are designed to shock – residents are often summoned to watch.
This harsh application of shariah, with people accused of being thieves sometimes having their feet amputated as well, has occurred at least 14 times since the Islamist takeover last spring according to human rights activists.
Many of the amputation victims have now drifted down to Bamako, in the south, which despite suffering from its own political volatility has become a haven for tens of thousands fleeing harsh conditions in the north, including the forced recruitment of child soldiers by the rebels.
It was in Bamako that I also met 40-year-old Maman Traore just moments after he arrived from the northern city of Timbuktu.
He escaped with his wife and five children on a boat on the river Niger after the French offensive against rebels in the north began.
Traore and his family are some of 30,000 Malians displaced since the French offensive and renewed fighting in the north started.
Aid workers have described the recently displaced as mostly made of “panicked and exhausted” people.
Most are headed to Bamako or the town of Segou which is the last government-controlled town to the north.
“As we approached Konna, we saw French fighter jets flying between Sevare and Konna,” Traore told me.
“We could see people fleeing Kona. We could also hear the sound of the falling bombs.”
Traore also described the dire situation he left back in Timbuktu.
“There is no security,” he said.
“All our rights are violated. All kinds of atrocities and crimes you can think of are happening in Timbuktu.
“You cannot walk on the streets or even make a call. We really welcome French intervention.”
Traore said that while many people would like to leave northern Mali, they couldn’t afford the hefty prices boat owners are charging, and most roads remain cut off.
While some of the displaced live in camps run by churches and religious organisations, many others are dispersed within the capital – living with friends and relatives.
Traore and his family are now staying with relatives of his wife in Bamako where they begin a new life in displacement.