Renewed Violence in Northern MaliJanuary 28, 2015 in Mali
Security sources disclosed Wednesday that an attack overnight in northern Mali by a pro-government armed group using suicide bombers, killed a dozen people. According to a military source, “GATIA fighters, accompanied by suicide bombers, attacked a rebel Tuareg and anti-government Arab position in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday near the town of Tabankort. There were a dozen deaths in total.” A security source from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, also confirmed the death toll, adding that two fighters blew themselves up while a third was killed before he was able to detonate his explosives. The overnight attack comes as renewed violence has once again affected the northern region of the country.
Over the past several days, tensions have been rising across the country as protesters have demanded that the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali withdraw. Tensions have risen in the wake of a UN military mission last week, which targeted rebels near Tabankort. Furthermore, the signing of an agreement over the weekend to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao, has resulted in demonstrations, with protesters calling for the UN mission to leave.
On Tuesday, three people were killed in northern Mali after a second day of demonstrations against the UN military missions. On the ground sources have described how a large crowd of angry youths threw stones and attempted to storm the MINUSMA headquarters in Gao in protest at the UN taking control of a troubled area north of the city. An official in the ministry for security and civil protection confirmed the deaths, adding that the situation in the area remained “very tense.” According to Arnaud Akodjenou, deputy representative of the MINUSMA force, “our officers were besieged by protesters this morning, but I can tell you that no one from MINUSMA fired on the demonstrators. Absolutely no order was given to use weapons,” adding “we are in very close contact with the Malian authorities.” A youth leader in Gao however has rejected this statement, instead blaming UN troops for the deaths of the demonstrators. According to Ousmane Dicko, of the Youth Collective activist group, “MINUSMA shot at us. MINUSMA killed civilians. We demand the departure of MINUSMA from Mali.”
Demonstrators in Gao are protesting an agreement to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao. The agreement, which was reached between MINUSMA and three rebel groups – the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and an anti-government wing of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) – places the zone under the exclusive control of UN troops and guarantees “the free movement of people and goods.” The area is controlled by pro-government militias who have in recent weeks clashed with armed rebels, leading to the deaths of both civilians and fighters. According to a local government source, the creation of the zone “will force loyalist armed groups to disarm or abandon their posts.” Sources have reported that loyalist armed movements, including the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group, as well as a pro-government wing of the MAA and various vigilante groups, “strongly encouraged” the demonstration.
The latest violence comes over a week after MINUSMA helicopters destroyed a rebel vehicle near Tabankort, north of Gao, in what MINUSMA officials have maintained was in “self-defence.” The attack on 20 January followed what MINUSMA described as “direct fire with heavy weapons” on its peacekeepers. Rebel groups however have indicated that the action, which killed seven militants and left twenty wounded, violated UN neutrality. The strikes sparked demonstrations hostile to MINUSMA in the northeastern rebel stronghold of Kidal.