Reports from Mali’s breakaway northern region of Azawad are as murky and contradictory as ever. Last week we were told that the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had cut a deal with the largest jihadi faction in the region, Ansar Dine, for creation of an “Islamic state.” Now a May 29 AFP report picked up by Nigeria’s This Day and South Africa’s IOL News quotes a Tuareg rebel leader as saying the deal has collapsed. But the leader is named as speaking not in the name of the MNLA, but a “National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA).” To wit:
“We have refused to approve the final statement because it is different from the protocol agreement which we have signed,” said Ibrahim Assaley, a member of the Tuareg rebel National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA).
Moussa Ag Asherif, a top member of Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), confirmed the impasse which came just 48 hours after the two groups declared the independent Islamic state of Azawad in northern Mali.
Amazingly, there is no acknowledgement of the inconsistency in the text. It could be a simple error. But we have noted earlier reports that an Arab militia calling itself the Azawad National Liberation Front (FLNA) has emerged in Timbuktu—presumably to defend Arab interests against Tuareg hegemony. Assuming that it really is the MNLA that has broken with Ansar Dine, this is a heartening sign that they have not betrayed their secularism in the interest of power. The report continues:
A draft of the statement by Ansar Dine spoke of applying “pure and hard” Sharia, or Islamic law, and banning non-Muslim humanitarian groups from the area, Assaley told AFP by phone from Gao, where the unity talks took place.
“It is as if they want us to dissolve into Ansar Dine,” complained the representative of the secular Tuareg rebels. “That is unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, a May 30 report on the France-based Tamazgha website, voice of the Berber and Tuareg peoples of North Africa, carries an open letter from a group calling itself the “Coordination Cadres of Azawad” to MNLA secretary general Bilal ag-Achérif rejecting the alliance with Ansar Dine and declaring that “Salafist jihadism, advocated by Ansar Dine, is irreconcilable with the political line of the MNLA, and contrary to the Islam practiced by all the populations of Azawad…” The statement is signed by one Habaye ag-Mohamed, but the “Coordination Cadres” are not explicitly identified.