On Monday, a second round of peace talks between the Malian government and separatist militias will begin in Algiers. The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has continued over this past year despite the country’s efforts to return to a democracy. The two groups signed an interim agreement in June last year, which effectively paved the way for nationwide elections, however since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected to power, negotiations have stalled and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.
According to sources, the talks will be based on a “roadmap” that was agreed to by the different sides in July. The talks will be overseen by a “college of mediators,” which includes Algeria, the African Union (AU) and the 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS. A “college of facilitators” will be made up of delegates from France, Niger, Nigeria and the European Union. While former Prime Minister Modibo Keita, who is the president’s envoy at the talks, has disclosed “this time in Algiers, participants will get to the bottom of their problems and, it is to be hoped, come to an agreement,” Mali’s Prime Minister Moussa Mara has suggested that despite the government willing to make concessions, a “red line” has been set, noting that Mali’s territorial integrity and secular status will not be up for discussion. While there currently is no set deadline, negotiations between the Malian government and separatist militias are expected to last weeks with the claim for special legal status expected to be the main sticking point.
In the weeks prior to these talks, rival factions amongst the rebels, including members of the MNLA, HCUA, the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), the coalition of the People of Azawad, which is a sub-division of the MNLA, along with a vigilante movement in the region, met in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, in order to sign a broad policy agreement that effectively ensures they will speak with one voice in Algiers. According to sources, the signatories of the document are requesting “special legal status” for their homeland in northern Mali, adding that they want official recognition of the “legitimacy of the struggle of Azawad/northern Mali for 50 years to enjoy a special status in line with the geographical, economic, social, cultural and security realities.” Although these armed groups once fought each other in northern Mali, it now appears that they are increasingly willing to unite together in order to achieve their goals and to negotiate with the Malian government.
In May of this year, clashes erupted between the Malian army and a coalition of rebels from the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), resulting in at least fifty soldiers being killed in the region of Kidal. Although a ceasefire, which was achieved by Mauritanian leader and AU chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has since been in place, the Malian government has expressed alarm over the “concentrations of armed groups” that are present in the desert region.
Three armed movements from northern Mali have signed a joint statement in Algiers, declaring that they are ready to work for peace with the Malian government. The top leaders of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) have been in the Algerian capital since Thursday.
Algeria’s foreign ministry confirmed Tuesday that three northern Malian rebels groups have signed an accord in Algiers, pledging to work for peace through inclusive talks in Mali. An Algerian government statement issued Tuesday indicated that the MNLA, HCUA and the MAA signed the “Algiers Declaration” late Monday, effectively pledging their “good faith” to strengthen the process of reconciliation through dialogue. The statement also pledged to support for a dialogue with the Malian government that “takes into account the legitimate desires of the local population while respecting the territorial integrity and unity of Mali.” The dialogue between the government and the armed groups however has yet to begin.
The secular MAA, which seeks sweeping autonomy in Mali’s part of the Sahara and the Sahel, has joined forces with the MNLA and HCUA in order to try and enhance “the momentum under way for peace.” The three groups have indicated that they are seeking a “definitive” solution to the decades of instability that have affected northern Mali by “taking account of the legitimate claims of the local population with full respect for the territorial integrity and the national unity of Mali.”
Mali has been in turmoil since 2012, when Tuareg rebel groups seized control of the northern regions of the country. While the government regained control in 2013, with the help of French and African troops that intervened after al-Qaeda militants took over the Tuareg rebellion, tensions between the Malian government and the rebel groups have not declined. The government in Bamako continues to be an object of resentment, especially in the far northern town of Kidal. This was evidenced in May when clashes erupted between government soldiers and MNLA rebels, leading to a tense standoff.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.