"In addition to the wearing of the veil, thieves will be punished by having their hands cut off and adulterers will be stoned to death." 90% of the area's 300 Christians have fled.
West African Mali residents flee with animals tied to hood of car a la Mitt Romney, AFP, via BBC, 4/4/12
Map showing Mali, BBC
4/4/12, "Christians flee from Islamists in northern Mali," AP
"Mali's crisis deepened Wednesday, as officials in the fabled northern city of Timbuktu confirmed that the Islamic rebel faction that seized control of the town over the weekend has announced it will impose sharia law.
Rebels in the country's distant north have taken advantage of the power vacuum created last month when renegade soldiers in the capital of Bamako overthrew the nation's democratically elected leader. In the chaos that followed the March 21 coup, they advanced on strategic towns in the north, including the ancient city of Timbuktu, located over 620 miles from the capital.
The ethnic Tuareg rebels included a secular faction fighting for independence, and an Islamic wing, Ansar Dine, whose reclusive leader called a meeting of all the imams in the city on Tuesday to make his announcement.
"He had the meeting to make his message to the people known, that sharia law is now going to be applied," said the Mayor of Timbuktu Ousmane Halle, who was reached by telephone. "When there is a strongman in front of you, you listen to him. You can't react," he said, when asked what the reaction was of the imams of a historic town known for its religious pluralism and its moderate interpretation of Islam.
"Things are going to heat up here. Our women are not going to wear the veil just like that," said the mayor.
He said in addition to the wearing of the veil, thieves will be punished by having their hands cut off and adulterers will be stoned to death.
In a show of force, the Islamic rebels on Wednesday drove through the town in a tank-like armored-personnel carrier, their ominous black flag flapping in the wind above the cannon.
More than 90 percent of the city's roughly 300 Christians have fled since the city fell to the rebels on Sunday, said Baptist Pastor Nock Ag Info Yattara, who is now in Bamako. He said not one of the 205 people in his congregation, which has worshipped in Timbuktu since the 1950s, has stayed behind. "We cannot live like that," he said....
Ansar Dine is believed to be allied with an al Qaeda faction, which has already kidnapped over 50 Westerners since 2003, including a Canadian diplomat in Niger and a British national, who was later executed.
"The problem for us is that we don't know who is the master of our town," said the mayor, who explained that the Islamist faction had taken over the city's military camp, while the secular rebel group was stationed at the airport. "What I deplore is the departure of the Christian community. Many said to me that they are obliged to leave. And they are right. I cannot guarantee their safety. And these are people that have lived side-by-side with us for centuries."...
The humanitarian organization Oxfam expressed concern that the embargo could impede humanitarian aid. The organization pointing out that 40 percent of the country's goods come from outside Mali.
"Some 3.5 million people are at risk as the country has been hit by one of the worst food crises in decades," Eric Mamboue, Oxfam's country director in Mali, said in a statement. "We are concerned that some of the sanctions imposed by neighboring countries and supported by the Security Council, if maintained for more than a few days, could serve to make an already desperate situation even worse.""
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - which holds a number of Western hostages - also seems to have been involved.
These groups have a different agenda to the secular MNLA - wanting to introduce Sharia throughout Mali - and there are some reports that the jihadists control one of the two main military bases in Gao."...