Mali: Qatar aid workers in northern Mali
Malian nationals arrive from the northern city of Gao in April 2012 at the Bamako bus station after two days of travel
Four members of Qatar's Red Crescent Society are in northern Mali to evaluate the humanitarian needs of a region cut off from foreign aid groups since being seized by armed rebels, the organisation said Monday.
"We came to Gao (north-east) to evaluate the needs of the population in terms of health, and the supply of water and electricity," said a member of the team who identified himself only as Rachid.
"We will leave very soon to return with the necessary items."
He did not comment on criticism by Tuareg rebels that the visit showed Qatar was backing Islamist fighters who have the upper hand in Mali's north. Both groups seized the north from the Malian state after a March 12 coup d'etat.
"We are the Qatari Red Crescent, and we are here only to help the population, there is nothing else, nothing else," said Rachid.
Corroborating sources reported that the aid workers had come to Gao from nearby Niger, and said their security had been provided by the Al-Qaeda offshoot Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
MUJAO is a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which are backing armed Islamists Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), who are implementing strict Islamic law in the previously secular towns of northern Mali.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg rebel group that wants independence for the north of Mali with their own separate objectives, said Qatar was supporting MUJAO.
"They are mostly distributing basic goods, oil, sugar, rice and tea. Qatar is thus helping MUJAO get closer to the population," a member of the MNLA said on condition of anonymity.
The occupation of northern Mali has led to a serious humanitarian crisis at a time when food is already low due to a severe drought across the Sahel.
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