U.S. State Department Issues Travel Warning for Mali
“The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Mali at this time because of fluid political conditions, the loss of government control of Mali’s northern provinces, and continuing threats of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners in the north of the country. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable over the past few months, the country faces continued challenges including food shortages, internally displaced persons, and the presence in northern Mali of factions linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mali dated August 29, 2012, to update U.S. citizens on the current security situation.
In April 2012, Dioncounda Traore was inaugurated as Mali’s interim president, and Cheick Modibo Diarra was appointed Prime Minister. Together, they headed an interim government tasked with returning Mali to constitutional, civilian rule. On May 21, demonstrators who supported the March coup stormed the presidential palace and assaulted the president. On December 11, Prime Minister Diarra was detained by the military junta and forced to resign. A new Prime Minister, Diango Cissoko, was named and a new cabinet was announced on December 15, 2012.
Persons believed to be connected to the military junta have committed isolated incidents of extrajudicial detentions and harassment of journalists and those associated with the counter-coup effort. Sporadic demonstrations and protests continue throughout Mali. Since August, thousands of people have gathered to march for peace in Bamako and urged the government to take action in the North. Because of the ongoing potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
Northern Mali remains under the control of Ansar al-Din, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), and other groups. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) was allied with Ansar al-Din and shared control over Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. During June and July of 2012, Ansar al-Din and MUJWA, aided by AQIM, turned on the MNLA, ejecting it from major cities and seizing sole control over the north. Islamists destroyed ancient tombs in Timbuktu and implemented sharia law in the cities they hold. On November 20, a French citizen was kidnapped by MUJWA from Diema, Koulikoro region, and terrorist groups have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnapping attempts on Westerners, particularly those linked to support for international military intervention.
Senou International Airport in Bamako is currently open for business and scheduled flights are proceeding normally. Some international flights have occasionally been canceled due to low travel volume, but travelers have been notified in advance. Persons wishing to depart the country should check with commercial airlines for the airport’s operational status, and flight and seat availability, before traveling to the airport.
The U.S. Embassy has instructed Embassy employees and their dependents to be cautious when traveling within Bamako, and weencourage U.S. citizens to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure personal safety. This is especially important at large gatherings on public holidays and as one-year anniversaries of significant events in Mali approach, potentially leading to public demonstrations.
U.S. citizens should note that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako has forbidden all travel by U.S. government employees and their dependents to regions north of the city of Mopti. The U.S. Embassy requires all official travelers to the region of Mopti and areas within 100 kilometers of the Mauritanian border to have prior written authorization from the Ambassador; permission is usually given for official travel only. This designation is based on insecurity in areas adjacent to those zones, including the presence of AQIM and the threat of kidnapping, as well as banditry in the region. U.S. citizens planning to travel to Mali, particularly to destinations outside of Bamako, should consult the Embassy or your host organization(s) for the most recent security assessment of the areas where you plan to travel.
As a result of safety and security concerns, some organizations, including foreign companies, NGOs, and private aid organizations, have temporarily suspended operations in Mali or withdrawn some family members and/or staff.”