The black flag of the Ansar Dine Islamic group is posted on a road sign in Kidal in northeastern Mali
The black flag of the Ansar Dine Islamic group is posted on a road sign in Kidal in northeastern Mali

Citizens' militias are being set up in the fightback against Islamists who are imposing Sharia law in parts of northern Mali where they have seized control.

Citizens in Gao staged a sit-in in the Place de l'independence to block Islamists from the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), a group allied to Ansar Dine separatists, cutting off the hand of an alleged thief in accordance with Sharia.

The campaign of disobedience is spreading in the region, the New York Times reported, with hundreds of young men being trained in makeshift camps in hand-to hand combat.

Their aim is to step in after the army's failure to repel the Islamists although they have very few weapons. They are working in coordination with the army.

"These militias are very good," said Col Didier Dacko, who commands the Malian Army forces. "We're constantly exchanging with them. And we're helping them with food and teaching."

Mali's army faced an internal rebellion in March after a military junta ousted President Amadou Amani Toure in the capital of Bamako.

The Economic Community of West African States agreed in July to plan for a military intervention in Mali which would include the deployment of 3,000 soldiers.