What happens when the mercenaries return home?

According to Malian officials, Muammar al-Qaddafi's government has recruited hundreds of young Tuaregs, including former rebels, from Mali and Niger to act as mercenaries. As AFP's Serge Daniel reports, locals are worried about what this will mean for the restive region when they return home:

"We are worried in many respects," said Abdou Salam Ag Assalat, president of the Regional Assembly of Kidal.

These young people "are going in masses (to Libya). It's very dangerous for us because whether Kadhafi resists or he falls, there will be an impact for our region."

He said regional authorities "are trying to dissuade them" from leaving, particularly ex-rebels, but that it was not easy as there were "dollars and weapons" waiting for them.

Assalat said an entire network was in place to organise the trip to Libya.

"Kadhafi's reach stretches to us. He knows who to call, they make group trips. There seems to be an air link from Chad. Others go by road to southern Libya."

"All of that scares me, really, because one day they will come back with the same arms to destabilise the Sahel," said Assalat, adding that "a former Malian Tuareg rebel leader is also in Libya", but did not mention his name.

The Tuareg Rebellion in Niger and Mali is currently in a state of cease-fire, which was actually partially negotiated by Qaddafi in 2009. It's not hard to imagine that the situation could deteriorate quickly with an influx of well-armed Libya veterans.


Malta in the Middle

The tiny island nation of Malta, owing to its proximity to Libya -- Tripoli is closer to Malta than to Benghazi -- has emerged as a major transport hub as nations scramble to evacuate their citizens from Libya. Countries ranging from India, to Russia, to China, to the Philippines have chartered flights to evacuate citizens ferried or flown over from increasingly chaotic Tripoli. Malta has also chartered its own flights to evacuate 900 Egyptians from the country. In total, 12,000 workers have been evacuated through the island, with a population of only 410,000, in just a week. Malta has also offered its territory as a staging ground for humanitarian aid.

Malta might have liked to stay neutral in the conflict. It has long-standing ties with Qaddafi's government dating back to former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff's Arab-centric foreign policy. (Mintoff was awarded the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in 2008.) Malta was recently instrumental in helping to mediate the diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland, and the two countries were discussing a new cooperation agreement as recently as last October.

But Malta was forced to take sides last week when two Libyan fighter pilots landed on the island after refusing to bomb civilian targets. Malta has denied a request from the Libyan government that the two planes be returned, and they've been turned over to RAF specialists for deactivation. The pilots have requested political asylum.

On Tuesday protesters scaled to the roof of the Libyan Embassy in Balzan to replace the green flag of Qaddafi's government with the pre-revolutionary version that has become the emblem of the protesters. Additionally, the ambassador said he would accept any flag that represented the Libyan people, but on Thursday, the green flag was back.

In any case, it's a rare moment in the spotlight for a tiny island in the center of it all.