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In Mali, there's growing anger over an Islamist takeover of the north. The West African nation was split in two earlier this year after a military coup toppled its government. In the power vacuum that followed, militants seized a chunk of the nation's north the size of Texas. Tamasin Ford reports from the capital, Bamako.

TAMASIN FORD, BYLINE: Huddled in a circle on plastic chairs at a small hall in the center of the city, women displaced from the north share a pot of rice. Sixty-two-year-old Aramata Maiga fled the northern city of Gao when rebels stormed into her home.

ARAMATA MAIGA: (Through Translator) I left Gao because they are killing people over there. They are killing soldiers. They are killing citizens. They are killing everyone.

FORD: Aramata owns a shop in Gao where she sells women's clothing. The rebels took everything, leaving only the chairs. She now shares a room in Bamako with her five children.

MAIGA: (Through Translator) We are living in hell here in Bamako. And I'm even ready to go and fight myself now just to free my people.

FORD: More than 400,000 people have fled cities in the north of Mali since the coup in March. The minority Tuareg separatists, nomadic herders who have fought for independence for more than 50 years, initially took control of the region. They were soon moved out by al-Qaida-linked rebel groups who swept through the vast cattle herding desert, accused of looting, raping and imposing strict forms of Shariah law.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

FORD: Mariam Cisse left her 10 children in the northern city of Timbuktu. She now lives with nearly 40 other displaced people at a relative's house high on a dusty hilltop in the suburbs of Bamako.

MARIAM CISSE: (Foreign language spoken)

FORD: The children are malnourished with lots of sicknesses, she says. When the rebels arrived, they raped the girls and took them into the bush to spend months there. There's nobody there to fight them. We are there on our own, she said.

CISSE: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

FORD: Different militia groups say they are intent on starting a civilian rebellion. Disorganized and underfunded, they say if the international community won't step in and the Malian army continues to do nothing, they will go it alone, but the people of Mali are also tired of waiting.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If there is something organized with good training, with the right weapons, I think personally I would be with them.

FORD: This mother of three, with a master's degree, wanted to meet at my guesthouse so that no one would overhear what she had to say. Like many people I've met, she's afraid to speak openly but says it's time for Malians to take action themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They have weapons. And if I have to take a weapon and be in front of them and fight, why should I not do it? This is my country. I don't have any other country. I don't have anywhere else to go.

FORD: And do you think other women and other mothers are feeling the same way as you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah. I know many of them. I know many, many other women who would be able to go and fight. We've been believing that our army would protect us against this sort of situation. But if they don't, they're not able to do it, we would go.

FORD: She says she knows other educated people like herself and not just those from the north who feel the same. For NPR News, I'm Tamasin Ford in Bamako, Mali.

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