Mali imposes national military service amid separatist tensions

BAMAKO Thu Jun 5, 2014 12:28pm EDT

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (standing C) salutes troops during a military parade to mark Armed Forces Day in Bamako January 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Joe Penney

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (standing C) salutes troops during a military parade to mark Armed Forces Day in Bamako January 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Penney

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali is to introduce compulsory national service for men and women aged 18 to 35, the government announced, after clashes between northern Tuareg separatists and the army last month.

A communique issued following Wednesday's cabinet meeting said President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's government had taken the decision to impose six-month national service "to develop a feeling of patriotism and the instinct for national defense".

"The legislative texts will be adopted by the end of the year so the scheme can start from 2015," Mahamar Mohamed El Moctar, chief of staff at the Youth Ministry, told Reuters on Thursday.

"As well as the military aspect, it will involve training in handling weapons and fostering in our youth a sense of citizenship, of civic spirit, of the nation and the homeland," he said, adding that national service would be compulsory for both men and women.

Mali's army suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Tuareg separatists last month after it attempted to seize their stronghold of Kidal. The army was quickly overrun by rebel forces as U.N. and French peacekeepers declined to intervene.

Popular faith in the army had already been shaken by the ease with which it was overrun in early 2012 by a coalition of Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants who seized the northern two thirds of Mali.

A series of student protests in recent months have created frustration at what some critics have called a lack of patriotism among youth, in the wake of last year's French-led war to liberate northern Mali from the Islamists.

"Our priority is not to prepare for war, as one might think in the current context, but to create a new citizen," Soubounou Djibril, secretary-general at the Youth Ministry, said of the national service plan.

Keita, elected by a landslide in August 2013, earned a reputation for toughness in crushing student protests as prime minister in the 1990s. He has promised to restore a sense of national pride in the landlocked former French colony.

Mali last had national service from 1983 to 1991.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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