Mali: Tuareg rebels demand autonomous Azawad

Mali's government is boasting a deal with Tuareg leaders signed May 15 in the capital Bamako that grants autonomous powers to the northern homeland of Azawad. But the "Algiers Accord"—named for Algeria-brokered negotiations—was not signed by the main rebel factions. Two leaders of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) signed, but not the body as a whole. The pro-Bamako militia known as the Tuareg Self-Defense Group of Imghad and Allies (GATIA) also signed. But the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and allied High Council for the Unity of Azawad boycotted the ceremony. Also absent were the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA),  Coordination for the People of Azawad (CPA), and Coordination of Movements and Fronts of Patriotic Resistance (CM-SAF).

These groups are holding out for greater regional autonomy. CMA secretary-general Mahmoud Ag Ghali told Reuters: "What is certain is that, no matter what, we will never sign unless our amendments are taken into account."

And there was little sign of peace on the ground in Azawad. On the day of the signing, GATIA reported clashes with the MNLA at the town of Menaka, which it had recently taken from the rebels. Also that day, hundreds of Tuareg youth marched in Kidal against the Algiers Accord, carrying banners and chanting slogans including "Better martyrdom than humiliation." After marching through the town, the protesters took their demonstration to a camp of "peacekeepers" from Mali's UN mission, MINUSMA.

Peace with the Tuaregs is a priority for the government as Islamist attacks continue in the country. On March 7, the jihadists for the first time brought their campaign of attacks to Bamako, killing five in an assualt with grenades and machine-guns at a nightclub in the capital. (AFP, EFEReuters, Reuters, May 15; Algerie Presse ServiceRFI, MaliActu, May 14; Xinhua, April 28; AFP, April 27; BBC News, March 7)

  1. Azawad peace pact broadens

    After initially holding out for greater regional autonomy, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) has signed on to the Algerian-brokered peace deal for northern Mali, Bamako announced last week. The accord calls for a regional security force and a special development plan, but leaves the issue of Azawad's final political status for a national debate between Malian parties. (KUNA, Reuters, June 22)