Map of key areas in Mali affected by the civil war. The regional ECOWAS grouping is trying to mediate the conflict between the MNLA and Bamako., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
NORTHERN MALI: NEW TUAREG INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT EMERGES
Posted on May 22, 2012 by Alexandra
Republican Movement for the Reconstruction of Azawad (MRRA)
As negotiations drag on between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar al-Din, new resistance to the continued presence of armed Islamic groups is emerging.
Just a few hours after the end of a May 13th meeting in which the two sides agreed to disarm militias and declare an interim government, former Malian army Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou announced the birth of a movement with 1,000 men supplied with 250 military vehicles.
The goals of the new Republican Movement for the Reconstruction of Azawad (MRRA) are to combat Islamic armed groups in northern Mali and to demand political autonomy for Azawad, group spokesperson Ishaq Ag Housseyni said.
He added that his movement includes “various social components of Azawad, such as Songhai and Fula nationalities, Arabs and Touaregs who seek broad autonomy for Azawad within the framework of the Malian republic”, temoust.org cited him as saying.
The MRRA spokesperson demanded the fighters of the MNLA and the National Front for the Liberation of Azawad who want autonomy join them so that they can expel the armed groups from northern Mali provinces.
Ag Housseyni made a similar appeal to the international community to provide necessary means to fight these armed groups and to establish stability and security for the region’s civilians, noting that any delay would consolidate the presence of terrorists in the north.
Gao-based journalist Mohamed Ag Ahmedu explained that the “sudden appearance of Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou who fled in early April with his pro-Malian army military forces under strikes by Ansar al-Din and the MNLA will change the balance of power and delay the endeavours of the MNLA which is doing its best to ensure full independence from Mali”.
“The talk about the option to stay under the Malian government from a Touareg leader who has his own political weight and military force in the region, and his talk about ethnic diversity in Azawad where many groups of black people are living, has strongly encouraged demonstrations led by young people from the Songhai ethnicity in Gao against the armed groups, including the MNLA, which considers itself to be wanted by local populations,” Ag Ahmedu added.
The demonstrations that were staged Monday evening by Songhai young people, the predominate ethnic group in Gao, coincided with the appearance of the MRRA. Demonstrators called for the departure of armed groups, such as Ansar al-Din, al-Qaeda and the MNLA. They also removed the flags of these movements and replaced them with the Malian flag. As a result, the demonstration was dispersed by force and at least five people were wounded, AFP reported citing a medical source in Gao.
Moussa Seidu, a Gao resident, told Magharebia that “demonstrators chanted slogans condemning Islamic groups that prevented them from playing football, and vowed to expel them from town.”
“The anger of demonstrators was so strong that they challenged the fears that have been haunting them since the Islamic groups came,” Seidu added. “They were saying that they no longer fear death or humiliation.”
Gunshots over their heads by MNLA and Ansar al-Din dispersed the protestors. However, MNLA representatives downplayed the importance of the rally.
“We don’t consider what happened Monday evening to be a demonstration; rather, they were just moves by a certain group that was mobilised and exploited by entities known to us,” Mubarak Ag Mohamed, a member of the MNLA media office, told Magharebia. “Their goal is to stop the independence of Azawad and impede our march towards reconciliation.”
“The march of those young people was dispersed by force by MNLA and Ansar al-Din,” Ag Mohamed concluded. “The situation is very calm today, and life has returned to normal.”
Tuareg Rebels Join Forces In North
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist Touareg rebels Ansar al-Din reportedly reached a deal Sunday (May 20th) to form a joint interim government for the self-proclaimed state of Azawad.
“Ansar al-Din and the MNLA have agreed to choose Belal Ag Sharif, head of the MNLA political bureau, to lead the interim government, and Mohamed Ag Nejim, a former officer in Mali’s army, has been selected as general co-ordinator of army,” Nina Welet Ntalo, a member of the MNLA political bureau told Magharebia.
She added that “the two groups have formed a 40-member committee, with half of members representing Ansar al-Din and the other half representing MNLA, to declare the government Sunday or Monday (May 20th-21st).”
The agreement removes an important obstacle for the secessionists seeking an independent state in northern Mali but leaves open the question of the continued presence of fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other terrorist groups.
Abu Bakr al-Ansari, an analyst hailing from the Touareg tribe of Kalnassar who specialises in the on-going conflict in northern Mali, said the agreement came at a time of a “decline of the secular MNLA’s authority; something that undermined its argument about its ability to convince the world to support its secular state”.
“Given this situation, we can understand the tireless efforts that MNLA leaders have been making for weeks to convince Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly to join them and abandon his alliance with al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb,” al-Ansari added. “However, this hasn’t been possible so far, although progress has been made in negotiations.”
A key part of the agreement was the inclusion of multiple ethnic groups from across northern Mali, according to Gao-based journalist Mohamed Ag Ahmedu.
In addition to the MNLA and Ansar al-Din, Ag Ahmedu said the pact included “the Arab Front for the Defence of Identity and groups close to the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), AQIM and leaders of Arab tribes, such as Barabiche, Kentah and Amhar and other tribes in northern Mali, to establish the Republic of Azawad which would consist of Touaregs and Arabs and some other ethnic minorities that have shared land, religion, history and aspirations”.
He added that “there are some other issues that are still under discussion between Ansar al-Din and MNLA, such as abandoning the alliance with AQIM elements, who Iyad Ag Ghaly considers as immigrants who can never be abandoned.”
Meanwhile, a senior military commander from the MNLA who requested not to be identified told Magharebia that his group “agreed with Iyad Ag Ghaly Sunday evening on the principle of Azawad state independence”.
“As to work under Islamic Sharia, we agreed that the choice will be for the Azawad people through a popular referendum about accepting the Islamic Sharia or secular system,” the MNLA commander said. “We also agreed that he would remove the black flag and that he would install MNLA flags instead.”
“The other issue that is still outstanding is the position from AQIM,” he added. “Iyad Ag Ghaly didn’t agree to abandon them and their alliance, and he still considers them to be friends who rendered him military services during his war against the Malian army.”
In his turn, Adoum Ag El-Wali, an activist in the MNLA and a Gao resident, told Magharebia that “a committee consisting of Azawad clerics is still talking to Iyad Ag Ghaly to religiously convince him of abandoning his alliance with AQIM elements. We’re optimistic about the results of these negotiations in the next few days.”
Meanwhile, analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem said that the decision by Arab populations to join forces with Azawad rebels was an important step that could “help partially isolate and neutralise AQIM”.