Mali’s Tuareg-led rebels have called for a meeting with mediators just one day after they rejected the United Nations-brokered preliminary peace agreement.
On Monday, the Tuareg-led rebels called for a meeting with Algerian mediators in a bid to “improve” a proposed peace agreement signed with the government in the capital city Bamako. After meeting for days in order to discuss the agreement, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which represents five rebel groups, had initially rejected the accord, stating that it was “fundamentally flawed.” They later released a “final statement,” which has called for further talks, stating that the document was a good basis for further discussions, however noting that it did not reflect the aspirations of their people and that it must now be improved in the interests of peace. The statement indicated that “according to the views expressed by the various communities of Azawad, it appears that the draft agreement did not take into account essential elements of the legitimate aspirations of the people of Azawad,” adding that the CMA” reiterates its firm commitment to pursue the aegis of international mediation.” The statement went on to say that “the CMA believes that the document produced by the mediation constitutes a good basis for work that needs to be improved in the best interests of peace… Therefore, it requests a meeting with the mediation and international partners in order discuss the progress of the process.”
The Algiers Agreement, which is the product of over eight months of negotiations, aims to bring a lasting peace to the northern desert region, which the rebels refer to as “Azawad.” The agreement was signed by the Malian government and several smaller groups however the Tuareg-led rebels had requested additional time in order to consider the offer.
Mali’s desert northern region has struggled for stability since the West African nation gained independence in 1960. Since 1962, the Tuareg movement has launched four uprisings in a bid to fight Mali’s army over the territory, which they claim is their homeland. Ministers and various rebel groups, composed of Arab organizations and the Tuaregs, are now seeking to resolve the decades-old conflict. A coup in Bamako in March 2012 enabled the Tuaregs to seize Mali’s vast northern region however the separatist uprising was later taken over by al-Qaeda-linked militants who took over the region. In early 2013, French troops forced the militants out of their strongholds and into the desert and mountains however recent attacks on bases and the targeting of convoys has raised fears that the militants are once again gaining strength.
While the UN has urged the rebels to sign the proposed deal protests have broken out in Kidal, which is the rebel stronghold in northern Mali, against the agreement.
Two United Nations peacekeepers have been killed in a car bomb blast in the northeastern Malian town of Kidal, overshadowing the second round of parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday.
On Sunday, Malians voted in the second round of parliamentary elections, which are intended to cap the nation’s return to democracy but which were overshadowed by the deaths of two UN peacekeepers in a militant attack that was carried out on Saturday.
Speaking shortly after casting his ballot in the capital city, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita stated, “this second round establishes the recovery on a foundation of legitimacy in this country. It will give us more strength, more power to say ‘Mali’ and that’s what Mali needs.”
In the first round of elections, which took place on 24 November, nineteen of the national assembly’s 147 seats were allocated, with voter turnout at 38.6 per cent, a drop of almost 13 percentage points from the first round of voting during the presidential elections. Shortly after the conclusion of the first round of parliamentary voting, Louis Michel, chief of the European Union (EU) observation mission, called on “all political actors” to turn out in the second round, adding that “in the specific context of Mali, voting is not only a right, it is a moral duty.”
While there were no serious incidents reported during the ten hours of voting, polling stations throughout the country were reporting turnout as low as fifteen per cent, as voters were scared away by a recent upsurge in rebel attacks against African troops tasked with election security alongside French and Malian soldiers.
Sources on the ground have indicated that polling stations in Bamako reported an estimated turnout of just fifteen per cent. In Koulikoro, located 50 kilometres (37 miles) southwest of Bamako, many residents indicated that they were not intending to participate as they were unimpressed with the candidates and feared Islamist violence. The second round of parliamentary elections is Mali’s fourth nationwide ballot since July, with some reports indicating that the low turnout may also be due to a lack of interest due to voting fatigue. In the north of Mali, voting took place without incident in the regions of Gao and Timbuktu, with seats in Kidal already decided in the first round. Maiga Seyma, the deputy mayor of Gao, indicated that turnout appeared to be good in its 88 polling stations and that the voting had opened in an atmosphere of calm.
The outcome of the election is expected to be announced by the government before the end of Friday, with the president’s Rally for Mali (RPM) party vowing to deliver “a comfortable majority” to smooth the path for reforms he plans to put in place in order to rebuild Mali’s stagnant economy and ease the simmering ethnic tensions in the north.
Explosion Overshadows Elections
A suicide attack on United Nations forces in northern Mali on Saturday killed two Senegalese soldiers in what a Malian jihadist leader said was retaliation for African countries’ support of a French army operation against Islamist militants.
The blast, which occurred when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden vehicle into the Malian Bank of Solidarity in Kidal, killed the two peacekeepers who were guarding the bank. A government statement indicated that the car “struck the main door of the bank, killing in addition to the suicide bomber two Senegalese soldiers of MINUSMA and injuring six other people.” The statement further noted that five sustained serious injuries – three peacekeepers and two Malian soldiers – who were later evacuated to Gao.
Sultan Ould Badi, a Malian jihadist linked to a number of armed groups, has indicated that the latest attack was in retaliation for African countries’ support of the French-led military operation against Islamist rebels in northern Mali. He further noted “we are going to respond all across Azawad and in other lands…with other operations against France’s crusades.” Badi, a member of northern Mali’s Arab and Tuareg minority groups, rose to prominence kidnapping European hostages in the region and selling them on to armed Islamist groups. He later joined AQIM and was close to one of the group’s top commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who was killed while fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February of this year. After Zeid’s death, Badi joined another al-Qaeda-linked group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), before launching his own small radical group. According to a Malian security source, Badi current acts as an intermediary between the various jihadist groups that operate in northern Mali.
Over the past week, the French army has been carrying out an operation against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant north of Timbuktu. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, nineteen militants have been killed.
Also on Saturday, Seyba Diarra, the right-hand man of coup leader Amadou Sanogo, was detained on charges of assassination. According to sources close to the investigation, Diarra had promised to “cooperate frankly” with investigators in order to shed light on a mass grave containing twenty-one bodies that was discovered on December 4 near the capital Bamako. The dead are believed to be “red berets” loyal to the president overthrown in the coup, Amadou Toumani Toure, The discovery of the mass grave came one week after Sanogo’s arrest and detention, after which about fifteen mainly military aides were also arrested. The government has since indicated that “for now,” Sanogo was charged with involvement in a kidnapping, however a source close to judge Yaya Karembe has stated that he faces charges including murder.
Despite reaching a peace agreement with the Malian government in June of this year, on Thursday, Tuareg separatists confirmed that they were suspending participation in the peace deal, accusing the Malian government of not respecting the accord that had been reached between the two groups. While the peace accord enabled national elections to go forward in July and August, and allowed Mali’s military to return to the northern Tuareg town of Kidal, it also called for the central government to commence peace talks within two months of the President’s election. In turn, under the signed deal, the government and rebels would agree to respect the country’s territorial integrity and hold peace talks that would focus on the status of the north. Although the signing of the agreement was seen by many as an easing of tensions in a region of Africa that has been on numerous occasions affected by Tuareg uprisings, this latest falling out demonstrates that tensions and a lack of trust continue to be a major issue and may deal a blow to the hopes of a lasting peace.
Following a meeting in neighboring Burkina Faso’s capital of ouagadougou, the separatist groups – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) – stated that they wanted to hold an emergency meeting of all parties involved in the peace accord in order to assess the implementation of the agreement. In a statement released late on Thursday, Mossa Ag Acharatoumane, a founding member of the MNLA, accused the Malian government of failing to live up to its promises, which were outlined in the agreement that was signed in the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso. The statement also indicated that “following multiple difficulties in implementing the Ouagadougou accord, caused notably by the Malian government’s failure to respect its commitments,” the Tuareg and Arab rebel groups “decided to suspend participation in the structures created by the said accord.” The three movements involved in the recent meeting dated the decision from September 18, the date of the second meeting of the joint committee as set under the ceasefire accord.
The central issue for Tuareg groups is the future status of northern Mali, which the Tuareg movements call “Azawad.” The rebels are seeking autonomy, an issue which the central government has been unwilling to discuss. Furthermore, amongst the Tuaregs grievances outlined in the statement are that the Malian government has not yet started prisoner releases which are inline with the Ouagadougou agreement. However observes of the peace deal have noted that Tuareg fighters have increasingly been moving outside of their bases in Kidal, which is in contrast to the accord that stipulates that the separatists would garrison their fighters.
While so far neither the Malian government nor authorities from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali have commented on these latest developments, tensions between Tuareg separatists and the central government in Bamako have been rising has no peace talks have occurred despite Mali’s new President being sworn in and a new government being formed. This decision also risks increasing tensions in a country that continues to be fragile after eighteen months of political instability. Just last week, protesters in Mali’s northern town of Kidal pelted officials from Mali’s newly elected government during a weekend visit to the town.
On Thursday, Mali’s military confirmed that two Malian soldiers were wounded as the army exchanged fire with “bandits” during security operations that were being carried out near the Mauritanian border. While this exchange of fire effectively marks the first time that separatist Tuareg rebels and forces from the Malian government have clashed since the two sides signed a peace accord in June of this year, government sources have rejected claims that the MNLA was involved. Meanwhile Mali’s newly formed government announced earlier this week that it will be carrying out a “compete inventory” of the existing mining contracts in a bid to maintain only those contracts that are in the country’s best interests.
Clashes Between Tuareg Rebels and Malian Forces
According to army spokesman Souleymane Maiga, as part of a week-long “operation to secure people and property,” the troops had been on patrol around the market town of Lere when they encountered gunmen on Wednesday, adding that “there was an exchange of gunfire…two of our soldiers were very slightly injured and we arrested a dozen armed bandits.” While media reports have stated that the fighters were from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group that has agreed to be confined to camps as part of a peace accord signed with the government, Maiga has rejected the claims, instead stating that “we were not faced with MNLA fighters, we were confronted by armed bandits who were preventing people going about their daily lives.” The army spokesman added that the security operations would continue until the end of the week.
The MNLA and the transitional government reached an agreement in June of this year, which effectively allowed Malian troops to enter the rebel bastion of Kidal ahead of the nationwide presidential elections which eventually saw former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita elected President. The accord also allowed for the release of fighters who were detained during a Tuareg uprising last year and outlines that talks between the new administration and Tuareg rebels, pertaining to autonomy for a large part of northern Mali, will occur within the next two months. Tuareg leaders however have warned that if the current president fails to reach a negotiated solution, then the MNLA will not hesitate in taking up arms again. If it is proven that MNLA rebels are behind this latest attack, then it will demonstrate that despite the signed agreement, and desires to reconcile the country, their remains a great rift between the new Malian government and the Tuareg rebels.
Mining Contracts to be Examined
Meanwhile earlier this week, Mali’s new government announced that it will be carrying out a “complete inventory” of the existing mining contracts, adding that it is ready to renegotiate any contracts that are not in the country’s best interests. In a brief interview after taking office, Mines Minister Boubou Cisse stated that “the government has decided to carry out a complete inventory of what exists – mining contracts, titles, licenses – be it in the mining or the oil sector,” adding that “if there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question.” Mr. Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, indicated that the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and that its results would be made available to the public. He also noted that his ministry aims to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around eight percent at present, to fifteen to twenty percent in the long term. Mali currently produces around fifty tonnes of gold a year. Randgold Resources and Anglogold Ashanti are amongst a number of international companies that operate in Mali. While no comments have been made pertaining to these specific mining companies, their contracts may be affected.
Preliminary Results from Malian Elections Announced while Togo’s Opposition Party Rejects Parliamentary Election ResultsJuly 31, 2013 in Africa, Mali, Togo
While official results from Sunday’s presidential elections in Mali are not expected to be announced until Friday, the country’s interim government has stated that initial results indicate that Mali’s ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubakar Keita has a clear lead in the polls that are intended to restore democratic rule in Mali. Meanwhile in Togo’s opposition party has rejected the ruling party’s win in the recent Parliamentary vote.
With a third of the votes counted in Mali’s presidential elections, the country’s interim government has stated on Tuesday that former Prime Minister Keita is expected to win the elections, with former Finance Minister Soumalia Cisse expected to gain second place. Col Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, the Minister of Territorial Administration, stated to journalists in the capital city of Bamako that “there is one candidate, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who has a wide margin compared with other candidates…. If maintained, there will not be a need for a second round.” Mr. Cisse’s camp however has rejected the results, calling for an international commission to count the ballots that were case in Sunday’s poll. His spokesman, Amadou Koita, has called the announcement “scandalous” and has questioned why Col Coulibaly refused to provide figures to back up his statement. International observers have urged Malians to accept the outcome of the elections while Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who is the current head of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has expressed confidence that the Malian contenders will accept the voters‘ choice.
The announcement of a possible winner in Mali’s critical presidential elections comes just days after France hailed the elections as a success. The European Union also indicated on Monday that the elections had gone well and that they had been marked by enthusiasm amongst voters despite threats from Islamist terrorists that polling stations throughout the country would be attacked.
Sunday’s vote was the first election to be held since an uprising by Tuareg separatists sparked a military coup in March of last year, which toppled democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure and effectively plunged the country into a political crisis which opened the way for Islamist militants to occupy the vast northern desert regions for ten months before being ousted by a French-led military offensive that was launched in January of this year. The presidential elections are seen as critical in not only completing the transition towards a democracy but also in maintaining stability and security.
On Monday, Togo’s main opposition rejected the provisional electoral results which showed that the ruling party won two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, effectively allowing the current President’s family to maintain its decades-long grip on power. Although the full elections results of the country’s parliamentary elections were announced by the Electoral Commission on Sunday night, Togo’s main opposition coalition, Let’s Save Togo, had already alleged earlier in the day that irregularities had occurred during the elections. The following day, Agbeyome Kodjo, a key figure within the Let’s Save Togo party, called the vote and results a “sham,” stating that “its an electoral sham amid massive corruption and proven electoral fraud.” The West African nation’s constitutional court must now approve the results from Thursday’s elections before they can become final.
According to results that were released by the Electoral Commission on Sunday evening, President Faure Gnassingbe’s UNIR party won 62 of the 91 seats, giving the party a two-thirds majority in Parliament. If the results are approved by the constitutional court, the President’s party will effectively have control over an even greater percentage of seats than it currently holds. During the 2007 legislative elections, the UNIR party won 50 of 81 seats. The closest opposition party was Let’s Save Togo, which won 19 seats. During Thursday’s elections, the UNIR performed particularly well in the northern region of the country, which is its traditional stronghold. Meanwhile Let’s Save Togo is stronger in the south, winning seven of the ten seats in the capital city of Lome. The second-largest opposition group in the elections, the Rainbow coalition, obtained six seats in Parliament. In a statement that was released late on Monday, the party also rejected the results of the polls, alleging that “several serious anomalies and cases of massive fraud” were recorded during the elections.
Despite the opposition coalition stating that there were irregularities that occurred during the elections, observers from the African Union (AU) and West African bloc ECOWAS have stated that the elections were held in acceptable conditions. In turn, the United States Embassy in Togo congratulated the Electoral Commission on Monday on the peaceful outcome of the elections, urging all the political parties to “respect the wish of the Togolese people.” A statement released by the US Embassy stated that “we urge all the political parties to respect the wish of the Togolese people and resolve all differences in a peaceful manner, in conformity with the electoral law.” The Embassy also urged that the new national assembly undertake the strengthening of democracy and to work for a more prosperous future for the Togolese.
The long-delayed vote came after months of protests, with the opposition coalition seeking to bring about sweeping electoral reforms. Many of the protests were dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas into the crowds, while some thirty-five people, mostly opposition members, were detained in the run-up to the vote in connection with a number of suspicious fires that had occurred at two major markers. Thirteen opposition members have since been released, including five candidates who participated in Thursday’s polls. Over the coming days, as the results of the elections are either confirmed or denied by the constitutional court, it is highly likely that protests may break out if it is announced that the current President’s party has won a majority of the seats in Parliament.