Mali's tourism minister scorns 'disinformation campaign'
Mali's Minister of Tourism and Crafts N'Diaye Ba on Friday denounced "a disinformation campaign" concerning "terrorist" attacks, when he opened an international tourism salon in Bamako.
"At a time when Mali is engaged in the most ambitious development of its tourist sector, it is the object of a disinformation campaign" that dissuades "the clientele that frequents our destination" from coming, Ba said.
"While it is undeniable that some events that took place in the Sahel-Saharan strip incite prudence to avoid endangering the lives of visitors, it's equally evident that a zero risk exists nowhere in the world," he added.
The desert north of Mali is one of the main theatres of operation of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is holding seven hostages - five French, a Togolese and a Madagascan - taken in neighbouring Niger on the night of September 15 to 16.
According to Ba, "the use of the terrorist menace, which gives free publicity to the terrorists, seems like a fearful weapon to compromise all the prospects of development of a place, a region, a country.
"All of our destinations can be a victim if advice to travellers is based on an amalgam, on confusion, to spread fear that leads to the disaffection of the clientele," he added.
Because of AQIM's activities, Western nations such as France, the former colonial power in Mali, have classed almost all the country's territory as red zone, or a region at high risk, and strongly advised their nationals to avoid travelling to Mali, except in the south.
Ba said that the Malian government had "decided to put to work certain actions to ensure the peace of mind of the people and of visitors".
These measures included a "rational occupation of territory by the state administration, an increased mobility on the part of troops for prevention and intervention" and "a social mobilisation to reduce the influence of sects and criminal groups".
Apart from countries in west Africa and the desert region of the Sahel, European nations such as Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland have sent representatives to the salon in Bamako.
The tourist sector has plummeted for two years in Mali because of AQIM's activities. "In the Gao region (in the north), we're down to 10 to 15 percent of our capacity," a tourist official from Gao told AFP.
© 2010 AFP