Mali: Tuareg revolt back on?

Reuters reported May 29 that Mali’s armed forces are hunting down Tuareg rebels who have taken up arms again, demanding more autonomy for the desert north. According to the report, the rebels used pickup trucks mounted with machine guns to attack army camps in the desert town of Kidal, some 1,000 kilometers northeast of Bamako, before withdrawing to surrounding mountains with looted weapons.

Speaking to Reuters from a hideout in the Adrar des Iforhas mountains north of Kidal, rebel spokesman Eglasse Ag Idar said by satellite phone that the insurgents wanted to open negotiations with the government, but that their overtures had been rejected. “Instead of negotiating a peaceful solution they are sending reinforcements. If there had been talks we would never have got to this stage. The Tuaregs have had to take up arms to be heard,” Ag Idar said told Reuters.

A message on the new crisis was issued by Tinariwen, the Tuareg musical group made up of former guerilla fighters who demobilized after the 1996 pact that ended the last Tuareg rebellion:

The north east of Mali is in turmoil following attacks on military and police installations in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. On the morning of May 23rd, at around 6 a.m. local time, an armed rebel Tamashek (‘Touareg’) group under the command of Hassan Fagaga attacked two military barracks near the regional capital Kidal and held them for the next 24 hours. Fighting continued for some hours as civilians, women and children for the most part, fled into the desert. A number of soldiers, national guardsmen and police took refuge in the old fort of Kidal and continued firing on rebels and civilians in the streets below. There are reports of four fatalities, two soldiers and two rebels. In Menaka, Moussa Bah, a Touareg army officer stationed in the local barracks mutinied and fled into the bush with a number of other deserters, having taken a quantity of arms and ammunitions from the camp arsenal.

At around 2 p.m. today an armored division of the Malian army, which had traveled overnight from Gao in the south, retook Kidal. The rebels have fled north, and the situation is apparently tense but calm.

These events follow a period of mounting regional tension. The politics of the southern Sahara are extremely complex. Simmering disagreements between certain local Tamashek leaders and the Malian government have persisted since the signing of the National Pact which put an end to last Touareg rebellion in 1996. The recent opening of Libyan consulate in Kidal, strategic rivalry between the Ghadaffi regime and the Algerian government, the discovery of large oil reserves in northern Mali, the presence of renegade fundamentalist militias in southern Algeria and the arrival of US military advisors have all fueled a welter of speculation and rumor.

Kidal is the hometown of the Tamashek group Tinariwen, who are currently on tour in Sweden and following events anxiously from afar. Various members of the group have managed to call friends and family in Kidal. They are very concerned for the welfare of their families, who are camping out in the desert in the hottest and driest season of the year.

There is also a concern that this story will remain largely ignored by the western media, or even worse, that events will be misreported and that rumor will mutate into fact. We call on all friends of the desert and of Tinariwen to help raise awareness of the situation amongst media organizations in their country, and amongst any NGOs and humanitarian organizations that have a presence in the region and might be able to help alleviate the suffering of the civilians caught up in this conflict.

Many thanks for all your help.

Peace and blessings,

See our last posts on the Tuareg and the politics of the Sahel.

  1. Mali offers peace talks?
    From al-Jazeera, June 4:

    The president of Mali has called on Tuareg rebels in the northern desert to discuss their demands and grievances with his government.

    Amadou Toumani Toure made the appeal on Saturday in a visit to Gao, 300km southeast of the town of Kidal where the rebels attacked and briefly occupied two army camps last month before withdrawing to surrounding mountains with stolen arms.

    State television broadcast the president’s speech on Sunday.