First Published: 2013-02-08

 

Tuareg rebels aim to re-assert relevance in Mali

 

MNLA are seeking to reassert themselves on political scene after unleashing Mali's descent into chaos.

 

Middle East Online

By Stephane Barbier - DAKAR

The Tuareg rebels who unleashed Mali's descent into chaos are seeking to reassert themselves on the political scene now that French-led troops have routed the Islamists who hijacked their rebellion.

The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) precipitated Mali's unravelling on January 17, 2012, when its members -- many armed with weapons recently brought back from Libya, where they fought for slain dictator Moamer Gathafi -- launched a rebellion in the north.

It was the latest in a long line of uprisings among the Tuareg, a traditionally nomadic North African people who have fought Mali's central government on and off since the country gained independence from France in 1960.

After teaming up with armed Islamist extremists in the region and humiliating the Malian army -- so badly that a group of mid-level officers staged a coup d'etat on March 22, exacerbating the chaos -- the MNLA declared independence for the new state of Azawad, the Tuareg name for their homeland.

But their alliance with the Islamists was short-lived.

More interested in sharia than independence, the Al-Qaeda-linked groups overpowered the MNLA and planted their own black flags across the north, ruling their territory with brutal repression until France sent in fighter jets, attack helicopters and 4,000 troops to drive them out.

Amid the ongoing conflict, the MNLA has sought to re-assert its relevance, claiming to have "chased the terrorists from several towns in Azawad" and passed along intelligence to French forces "top terrorist officials" it said it had arrested.

The group also said it had welcomed French troops in "full brotherhood" into the northeastern town of Kidal, the last Islamist bastion to fall.

The MNLA called on France not to let Mali's own troops secure Kidal, a request Paris appeared to grant, giving the job to 1,800 Chadian soldiers.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France had "functional relations" with the MNLA but that fighting terrorists alongside them was "not our objective".

The MNLA runs a vigorous public relations campaign from France and Burkina Faso.

Observers say it gets a boost -- particularly in France -- from the mythic image of the Tuareg, or Kel Tamasheq, a fiercely independent people who have lived in the region for 2,000 years and are known as the "masters of the desert".

Some say the MNLA has hijacked that mystique.

"Why do the media get so carried away when they talk about the Tuareg community?" asked Foreign Minister Mohammed Bazou of Niger, which also has a large Tuareg population.

"The MNLA doesn't represent the Tuareg. They've never been elected by anyone. The Tuareg community in Mali is beyond these people's grasp."

Historian Gregory Mann, a West Africa specialist at Columbia University, warned France it would be risky to ally with the MNLA, as Paris, eager to map an exit strategy, looks for partners to share the peacekeeping burden in Mali.

"This idea of allying to some extent with the MNLA... might be somewhat short-sighted in so far as it's going to be extremely difficult for (Mali's) central government to negotiate with the MNLA," he said.

"There are legitimate concerns on both sides about recent war crimes and atrocities, and also about a long history of aggression."

But Mali, a country of 14 million people whose bow-tie-shaped map circumscribes a vast sprawl of territory and peoples, will have to address the grievances of its estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Tuareg to escape the current crisis.

Interim president Dioncounda Traore has offered the MNLA a place at the negotiating table in return for renouncing its demand for an independent state.

The MNLA may also be able to help negotiate the release of seven French hostages kidnapped in Mali and Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2011 and 2012 who the Islamists are believed to be holding in the Kidal region, said Alain Antil of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

"They are going to give advice, information, hoping to be at the negotiating table in the political process," he said.

"The MNLA obviously have a card to play."

 

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts