Government forces clashed with a group of rebellious paratroopers in Bamako, the capital of Mali, on Friday.
Fighting began when paratroopers from the Djikoroni-Para base in the south of Bamako refused orders to split up and join other units fighting on the front line of the French-led offensive against Islamist militants in the north. According to officers in the Malian ary they had insisted that they must stay together as a single unit, refusing any orders which would split them apart.
Members of the mutinous ‘red beret’ unit began firing to protest their orders, and the base was soon surrounded by government forces in armoured vehicles. A gun battle between the two groups broke out, which lasted for several hours. Malian state media has reported that at least one person was killed in the battle.
Divided Loyalties in the Malian Army
The paratroopers from the Djikoroni-Para base, who fought against government forces today, are said to be loyalists of the deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure. Toure was deposed in a coup, which paved the way for the north to rebel. The incident highlights the divided loyalties within the Malian army, suggesting that not all of the army is 100% behind the government. It is a worrying sign for the country’s ability to maintain security once French forces withdraw.
Since the coup which toppled Toure last year the government has sought to sideline elite units who had remained loyal to the President. Some have also been arrested in relation to an attempted counter-coup in May which left 27 dead following several days of fighting.
One Malian defense Ministry official explained the situation very succinctly to a journalist from Reuters, saying:
“The Chief of Staff had taken a disciplinary measure against some of the paratroopers, and some of them were not happy with the decision so they woke up this morning and started shooting.”