Mali: AQIM Fighters 'impose Sharia' In Gao
The northern Malian city of Gao is still reeling from battles between rival factions as Islamists try to impose their mores on the local population.
Heavily armed guards patrol one of Gao's biggest hospitals, which looks more like a military compound than a medical centre.
Gunmen stock their light weapons inside Moulay Touré Hospital and keep heavy arms in the backs of their trucks opposite the clinic.
Since Islamist militants affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seized control of the northern Malian city, the clinic has turned into a shelter for injured terrorists.
"The Islamist militants force the staff to treat their wounded members first," Enjai Mahmoud, a young man in Gao, told Magharebia. "The hospital has also become a military barracks, and female doctors now wear Islamic clothes that restrict their movement inside the hospital."
The presence of arms in the hands of militants sows panic among patients and poses a grave danger, observers say.
People are not accustomed to seeing an armed presence inside the building, said Dr. Moulay Geite, head of the health mission at hospital.
"Some Malian refugees say their relatives in Gao are worried because al-Qaeda's vehicles enter from time to time," said Rajel Oumar, a Mauritanian journalist based in the border town of Nema. "This is against the will of Ansar al-Din, al-Qaeda's ally in Azawad, which has sent most of its forces to city outskirts since the first day, and now keeps some troops only for security and protection inside the city."
"Ansar al-Din prevents its members from moving around with their weapons inside the city," the journalist said.
Medical supplies are running short. Most of them come in the form of aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders. The terrorist organisation is opposed to the western bodies though it insists on treating its members.
AQIM fighters rivalled with the remnants of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) for control of the area. Heavily armed vehicles belonging to MNLA fighters roamed the same street opposite Moulay Touré Hospital carrying green and yellow flags, as opposed to AQIM's black flags.
Observers say that wounded members from both groups received treatment at the hospital. In May, local residents staged a protest not far from Moulay Touré Hospital to demand the departure of AQIM militias.
The wave of massive demonstrations in which a number of people were wounded and at least one was killed has been the biggest challenge for the armed groups. The factions fired in the air to disperse the protestors.
The fighting took a heavy toll on doctors, who scrambled to provide services despite scarce resources and lawlessness.
"Last month, we received 75 natural births cases and 10 other cases in which the newborns died," Keita Habibtu, a doctor specialised in gynecology and obstetrics, told Sahara Media.
"The newborn children can't have birth certificates issued because of absence of civil registry," Habibtu added.
Still, she refused to comment on her new attire which became a salient feature of tensions in the city, reeling from pitch battles between secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist rebels Ansar al-Din.
Islamists are trying to enforce their interpretation of Sharia on the local population, residents say. "Al-Qaeda is imposing Islamic dress by force at hospitals and other institutions," a young man told Magharebia on the phone on condition of anonymity. "A number of al-Qaeda elements intervene with doctors to make them treat al-Qaeda fighters first."
This content was commissioned for Magharebia.com.By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in NouakchottJuly 4 2012