April 9 - Hundreds of thousands have fled northern Mali to Niger as militants battle for control amid political instability. Jessica Gray reports.
Scores of refugees from northern Mali climb aboard packed trucks. Their destination is Niger, a 36-hour, 500 kilometre journey through desert terrain where temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius in the open. These workers and families, many with small or infant children, are fleeing the north seized nearly a week ago by a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamists with links to al Qaeda and who are now claiming independence. (SOUNDBITE)(French) OUSMANE MAIGA, REFUGEE, MALIAN TEACHER FROM ANSANGO, SAYING: "It's fear, fear everywhere. When you go out, it's the weapons. When you sleep, it's the weapons. When you wake up it's the weapons. It's only the weapons who are talking. It's a jungle, it's the law of 'whoever's strongest wins'. We don't even know who's in charge of the region. It's a complete mess." Food shortages are already expected to hit the Sahel this year. Rebels looting the northern region, setting light to bars and churches, have worsened an already dire situation and more than 200,000 civilians have now fled their homes, short of provisions, short of health care. People living in the capital Bamako organized a rally on Sunday to raise money and aid for relatives trapped in the occupied north. One angry resident accuse the Tuareg rebels of wanton destruction. (SOUNDBITE)(French) BENCO MAIGA, REPRESENTATIVE OF KIDAL, SAYING: "Do they really want independence? Because when we want independence we don't destroy hospitals, the credit companies and banks, the warehouses. If I wanted independence I would keep what we have, waiting to have more." Although Mali's junta has agreed to step down in return for amnesty, the north remains restive as Islamist militants and other separatist factions battle for control. Jessica Gray, Reuters