With much of his army defecting to the opposition that now holds Libya’s east, Moammar Qaddafi is notoriously making use of mercenaries from countries to the south in Africa. Recent reports indicate that these prominently include Tuareg fighters from Mali and Niger who flocked to Libya in the 1970s and ’80s, recruited into an “Islamic Legion” modeled on the French Foreign Legion. A Tuareg leader in Mali, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, said some 16,000 Tuaregs remain in the Libyan security forces. “We’ve been getting updates from some of them by phone,” Assaleh said by telephone. “They say their orders are to protect Qaddafi and they will defend him to the end.” (CP, March 1)
Tuareg leaders in Mali have expressed concern about their people being drawn into a regional war. “We are worried in many respects,” said Abdou Salam ag Assalat, chief of the Regional Assembly of Kidal. “It’s very dangerous for us because whether Qaddafi resists or he falls, there will be an impact for our region.” He said local authorities “are trying to dissuade” Tuareg youth from leaving for Libya, but that it was not easy as there were “dollars and weapons” waiting for them.
There has also been movement in the other direction, with Tuaregs and other African workers returning from Libya in response to the violence there. On March 1, 122 Malians who were working in a Chinese factory in Tiji, southeast of Tripoli, arrived back in Bamako with assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). (AFP, March 1)
There are also ominous possibilities that the Libyan fighting could pit Tuareg against Tuareg, with reports that indigenous Tuareg tribes in Libya’s south have joined the uprising against the regime. Attacks by Tuareg tribesman on official buildings have been reported from their interior strongholds of Ghadames, Ghat, Djanet, and Suhoul Adrar. (OnIslam, March 1)
Qaddafi backed the Tuareg insurgencies in Mali and Niger in the ’90s, but also helped broker peace accords that led to the the guerillas laying down their arms two years ago.