Mali: Tuareg rebels declare independence, repudiate Islamists

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Tuareg rebel army which has seized control of Mali's north, declared the independence April 6 of what it called the Azawad nation. "We, the people of the Azawad," the statement reads, "proclaim the irrevocable independence of the state of the Azawad starting from this day..." The military chiefs of 13 of Mali's neighbors met one day earlier in Ivory Coast to hash out plans for a military intervention to push back the MNLA. France said it will offer logistical support for the intervention. The European Union followed Paris' lead in announcing it will not recognize the new state. The intervention pact comes with a move to recognize Mali's besieged military junta. The junta and the West African bloc ECOWAS announced a deal that includes the lifting of sanctions and an amnesty for those involved in last month's coup. (AFP, April 7; AP, April 6)

The MNLA's declaration of independence asserts that with the end of French colonial rule in 1960, Azawad was annexed to Mali without the consent of its people, and notes the "massacres, exactions and humiliations, despoliations and genocides" of 1963, 1990 and the past decade. (Jura Libertarire, April 6) MNLA spokesman Mossa ag-Attaher told Le Monde's Voix Berbères blog that the rebel army "controls the entire territory of the three principal regions that form the territory of Azawad: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu." (Jura Libertaire, Voix Berbères, April 5)

But Inter-Press Service cites reports of rape and looting in Gao, while the situation in Timbuktu remains unclear. Reports indicate that an Islamist faction, Ansar Dine, has seized control there and announced the imposition of sharia law. It clearly does not share the separatist aims of the MNLA. Reports say Ansar Dine captured the city's military base from its local militia defenders and raised two flags: the green, gold and red of Mali, and the group's own standard, a black field with the words "Allahu Akbar" in Arabic. Mali's La Nouvelle République reported that Ansar Dine founder Iyad ag-Ghali took to the airwaves of Timbuktu's Radio Boctou to declare sharia law, and then sent militiamen into the streets to enforce it, "asking" women to veil themselves. Residents report that there are many foreigners among the Islamists, including Algerians and Mauritanians. (IPS, April 6)

The MNLA has issued a statement repudiating Ansar Adine, stressing "the opposition between our ideas and those of the Islamic groupsicles." It charges "that some have interest in this confusion" between the two groups, with the aim of "compromis[ing] the MNLA and its objectives." It states: "We make a point of saying to them that you have failed in advance. The MNLA makes every effort to clearly dissociate from the Islamic groupsicles al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Adine." It asserted that the MNLA did not collaborate with AQIM or Ansar Adine in its military offensive, and these organizations "do not share in the combat at all." (Jura Libertaire, April 2)

A second MNLA statement charges that "Moor (Arab) militias" have fallen under the sway of Ansar Adine leader Iyad ag-Ghali, "because of family ties and...the blind and foolish admiration some naive young people grant to this criminal." It says "the threat of Iyad ag-Ghaly and Ansar Adine will be probably handled in Timbuktu in a diplomatic way, or quite simply by the use of the force. A criminal groupsicle could never resist...the thousands of combatants of the MNLA, which has one objective: Democratic and Secular Azawad [l’Azawad Démocratique et Laïque]." (Jura Libertaire, April 3)

While no foreign government has recognized independent Azawad, several aspiring separatist movements around North Africa and Europe have, including Algeria's "Provisional Government of Kabylia," and the Parti de la Nation Occitane in France. (Toumast Press, Toumast Press, April 7)

See our last post on the Tuareg struggle.

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Daily Telegraph article on MNLA

Mrs English told French television last month that the couple had decided not to abandon the town after the kidnapping. The couple said they were well treated by the MNLA, the main force in the region, which did not have an Islamist agenda.

"The MNLA are a local force that are looking for local independence because they complain that the Malian government has deprived the area of all the resources and favoured other parts of the country," she said. "From living there I would have to say I agree with them."