Mali Chaos Continues

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Marco Werman: Journalist Peter Chilson was in Mali until a few days ago. He was there reporting for Foreign Policy magazine and for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and he's just followed the same route across the border to Burkina Faso as many of the Tuareg refugees we just heard about.

Peter Chilson: What I did find remarkable when I crossed the border was that when we came to the Malian border post, which I was expecting to find abandoned, there were two border guards there; young men who are not at all armed

Werman: Right, belonging to the Malian Army.

Chilson: Right, and they wanted me to know that they weren't armed and that they were not pleased about it. They wanted me to know that they were quite frightened and that they really felt uneasy because they didn't see that there was really a whole lot between them and the rebellion in the north. And then I and my driver, we kept on going.

Werman: Now, you had to leave Mali because you found yourself reporting in a town where there were no Malian government soldiers and there was a warning to you that bandits or maybe Islamists were coming the next day to attack that same town, and the prefect there warned you to get out of town.

Chilson: Right, the mayor said to me, "Look, it's true, I get these warnings all the time, but this warning is very, very specific," and he said to me, "If I were you, I would really keep a low profile if you want to stay in town." And my thought was I did not want to be kidnapped at all, so I left as fast as I could.

Werman: I mean it really seems to show the level of chaos in Mali, no government soldiers in the part of the country allegedly under government control. One can only imagine what it's like in the north where there are Tuareg rebels, where there are Islamists. Do you have a sense of just how chaotic it is up there?

Chilson: The Malian Army apparently lost according to the diplomatic sources I spoke to in Bamako when I was there, between 50-80% of its military material. You can really see that in the Mati region, which is where the army fell back and regrouped.

Werman: The Mati region is the central part of the country.

Chilson: And the Malian Army is now trying to reorganize itself. And in the north it is very, very confusing. It's tough to tell who controls what.

Werman: If the situation in the north of Mali is murky, I mean it's also kind of confusing what's going on in Bamako, the capital. Who is in charge in Bamako?

Chilson: We're really not quite sure who's in charge. I spoke to the military commanders in Mali and they are operating completely independent of Bamako. They're not waiting for orders. And the captain, Captain Sanogo, who lead the coup on March 21st and who is now apparently the president of Mali

Werman: Apparently, we don't even know.

Chilson: Right, they're not taking orders from him. They are acting on their own and they made it clear to me that they are going to reinvade the north, and it's obvious they don't have any ability to do that at this time.

Werman: Well, it remains a very confusing situation in Mali. Thanks very much for bringing a bit of clarity to it. Journalist Peter Chilson teaches writing at the University of Washington. He was speaking to us from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Thank you, Peter.

Chilson: Thank you.