January 18th, 2013
05:20 PM ET

In Mali, echoes of Libyan intervention

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - Edwige Depagne-Sorgho says she's always felt at home in Mali. People are helpful and chatty, she says but recently she's noticed changes. Life in the capital of Bamako goes on, but tension fills the air. She wrote about the changes on CNN's iReport.

Originally from neighboring Burkina Faso, Depagne-Sorgho's work takes her to Mali. She does emergency communication with Plan International, a British aid organization that assists Malian children displaced by the fighting.

[1:08] "Some of them come to us very shaken. Some of them have seen their parents killed in front of them."

These children are among the quarter of a million people who have fled their homes. The exodus from northern Mali started after a coup in March of last year. Ethnic Touareg factions in the north took advantage of the power vacuum and seized control. In turn, hardline militants, some with ties to an Al Qaeda affiliate, gained control. As the militants began to push south, France intervened.

Michael Shurkin studies Mali for the Rand Corporation. He supports the intervention but has concerns about the potential consequences of this fighting:

[4:09] "There are a lot of racial tensions in Mali in northern Mali. Basically Arabs and Touaregs define themselves as white and there are a lot of other communities that define themselves as or are defined by others as black."

Shurkin says sporadic bloodshed between these groups coupled with lingering bad feelings raises concerns about the possibility of ethnic violence. It's a worst-case scenario but Shurkin says, in this kind of conflict, predicting outcomes rarely works.

In fact, Shurkin and other experts say just look at the conflict in Libya. Many of the weapons in the north of Mali flooded into the country after Libya's longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi fell. According to Shurkin, Touaregs from Mali often found work in Libya:

[3:15] "As part of the Libyan army and also as mercenaries who were involved in the fighting at the end of the Libyan regime, these northern Malians got a lot of experience they got training, and apparently what's become clear is that when Libya feel apart they left, returned to Mali and carried with them large quantities of weapons."

Despite Mali's current woes, Shurkin has a great fondness for the country:

[4:46]"We are really rooting for Mali to work. It's a wonderful and magical place."

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