Bourema Niambele is organizing a peace march at the U.N. to call attention to the conflict in Mali. Photo: VIOREL FLORESCU / NY Daily Star
A conflict a world away is hitting agonizingly close to home for the burgeoning Malian community here in the Bronx and upper Manhattan .
Since January, the Malian government army has been clashing with Tuareg rebels who want independence for the northern region of country. The conflict has forced more than 120,000 people in the West African nation to flee their homes.
“Everybody is talking about what is happening there,” said Assetou Sy of the Malian Cultural Center in Norwood. “People are worried about it.”
Local activist Bourema Niambele has organized a “Peace in Mali” demonstration on Friday at the United Nations to call on the international body to intervene.
“We need the support of the international community to stop this kind of thing,” he said. “We don’t need this in our country.”
Niambele has been rallying support at meetings in the Bronx, where an estimated 8,000 Malian immigrants live, and Manhattan, where some 12,000 reside.
He took to the airwaves on local radio stations in hopes of amassing at least 100 demonstrators for Friday.
With presidential elections due in late April, it’s critical that this all be resolved soon so everyone can vote, Niambele added.
“We want a peaceful resolution of this conflict,” he said.
A former French colony, Mali is hailed as one of the healthiest democracies on the African continent since a military coup ended a dictatorship in 1991.
Since then, the landlocked nation of more than 15 million people has been relatively politically stable.
The government army briefly clashed with Tuareg rebels over land in the 1990s and again in 2007. This latest skirmish ends two years of peace.
According to United Nations reports, an estimated 31,000 Malians have fled to Mauritania; 29,000 are now in Niger; 19,000 refugees are in Burkina Faso; and another 81,000 people have been displaced within Mali.
“These (rebels) are opportunists who are doing everything to have this separation,” said Morimoussa Kamissoko, of University Heights, who plans on attending Friday’s rally. “It’s ridiculous. Mali is one nation. This is not something we want.”
Fatoumata Ouattara, of Harlem, was so upset by the conflict she couldn’t eat for days.
“I just want them to put the weapons down. We don’t want fighting,” she said. “I want everyone to sit down at one table and talk about this peacefully. War will not resolve anything.”
For Cisse Mariam Wague, of Concourse Village, it’s hard to be so far away and hear of all the fighting in her homeland. She plans to do her part at the rally.
“In Mali, we have a democracy. We don’t fight about power,” she said. “My country has always been peaceful and we want to stay that way.”
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