Islamists in Mali have retaken control of a northern town, disarming without a fight a local militia operating there with the aim of wresting back control of the rebel-held north, fighters on both sides said yesterday.
The fall of Douentza, at one stage occupied by Islamists but for weeks the northernmost town under southern control, illustrates the challenges Mali's government and countries in the region face in securing a deal with or defeating Islamists, including Al-Qa'ida fighters, occupying the desert north.
Mali's army is still in tatters after it lost ground to Islamist and secular rebels in fighting earlier this year and the hierarchy then crumbled when disgruntled soldiers ousted the country's president in a March coup.
The officers said they removed President Amadou Toumani Toure partly over his handling of the northern rebellion. But since they came to power they have been accused of meddling in politics rather than preparing a counterattack.
As a result, local hopes have been pinned on ragtag local militia like the Ganda Izo who have been recruiting and training local youth but lack weapons and basic equipment.