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.
According to provisional results announced by the government on Tuesday, the party of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and its allies, have won the West African country’s parliamentary elections.
Minister of Territorial Administration Moussa Sinko Coulibaly announced on state television that the Rally for Mali (RPM) party, along with its junior partners, had secured 115 of the 147 seats in the national assembly following a second round of voting that occurred on Sunday. The minister further noted that the exact breakdown was still being worked out. The Union for the Republic of Democracy (URD), the party of beaten presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse, will have between 17 and 19 members in the new parliament, effectively allowing Cisse to become the leader of the opposition. While the official results will be confirmed by the country’s constitutional court in the coming days, it appears that the RPM party have made good on a promise to deliver “a comfortable majority” to smooth the path for reforms that the president plans to put in place in order to rebuild Mali’s stagnant economy and to ease the ethnic tensions that are still an issue in the northern region of the country. Turnout for the second round of voting reached 37.3 percent, a drop from the 38.6 percent that was achieved during the first round, which itself was deemed disappointing by local and international officials. The second round of parliamentary voting was Mali’s fourth nationwide ballot in less than five months, with some observers blaming voting fatigue for the low turnout. Despite a terrorist attack being carried out the day before the elections, there were no serious incidents reported during the ten hours of voting however many voters were believed to have stayed away because of the recent upsurge in rebel attacks against African troops tasked with election security alongside French and Malian soldiers. On Saturday, two Senegalese UN peacekeepers were killed, and seven others wounded, when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car into a bank they were guarding in the northeastern town of Kidal. The elections mark the completion of Mali’s return to democracy after the country was upended by a coup last year. Louis Michel, the European Union’s chief election observer in Mali indicated on Monday that his team had positively evaluated 98 percent of the 705 polling stations observed during the election. He further noted that the “legal framework” for the polls “remains aligned with international standards for democratic elections.”
Meanwhile officials reported on Tuesday that militants had shelled a camp, where French troops and the United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping force are stationed, in northern Mali. According to military sources, “two shells were fired Monday night by unidentified persons at the Kidal camp for French troops and MINUSMA,” adding that there was “no damage or casualties.” The attack was later confirmed by a French military source stationed in Mali who indicated that the shells passed safely over the camp, missing their targets. The attack comes amidst an upsurge in violence in Mali’s north.
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.
An ethnic Tuareg separatist group in Mali has announced that it is ending a five-month ceasefire agreement that was reached with the Malian government back in June of this year. While the rebels have previously threatened to pull out of the peace deal, accusing the central government in Bamako of failing to fulfil its promises, this is the first time they have formally ended the ceasefire. The rebels have confirmed that they will take up arms, following violence in the northern city of Kidal, a move which will likely effect the security and stability of the entire country as it heads into a second round of parliamentary elections.
On Friday, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad announced that it would return to war against Mali’s army after indicating that one person was killed, and five others injured, in clashes with soldiers at an airport. The announcement, which has been described by the group’s leader as “…a declaration of war,” comes one day after clashes occurred between Malian troops and Tuareg protesters who prevented Prim Minister Oumar Tatam Ly from visiting the town of Kidal. According to Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice president of the MNLA, “what happened on Thursday is a declaration of war. We will deliver this war,” adding that “wherever we find the Malian army we will launch the assault against them. It will be automatic. The warnings are over.”
On Thursday, several hundred Tuareg demonstrators occupied an airport runway in order to prevent Mali’s Prime Minister from visiting the rebel-controlled north-eastern town of Kidal. While protesters indicated on Thursday that Malian soldiers had fired directly at “women and children who were demonstrating peacefully,” the central government has since indicated that its soldiers stationed at the airport had been “taken to task by uncontrollable elements” and had fired warning shots after being shot at and hit with stones. One person was killed in the clashes on Thursday, while three women and two children were injured. One of the women is in serious condition.
While Thursday’s incident has confirmed that tensions continue to exist between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels, the end of the ceasefire could potentially threaten security throughout Mali. Furthermore, this will likely have an impact on the second round of parliamentary elections, which are set to take place 15 December, and Mali’s overall process of returning to civilian rule after a Tuareg uprising that led to a coup last year and the occupation of the northern regions of the country by al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The end to the ceasefire could potentially threaten security in northern Mali. After eighteen months of a political and military crisis, the peace deal was signed between the rebels and the Malian government in June of this year. The June accord, which was signed in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, effectively opened the way for voting to take place in Mali, including in Kidal. Two rounds of a presidential election occurred in July and August. Furthermore, up until the agreement was reached, the MNLA, whose ultimate goal is the independence of Azawad, had refused to allow any government soldiers or civil servants to enter the town. Under the June agreement, the rebels remained in Kidal however they were required to return to their barracks under the supervision of UN peacekeepers. They were also forced to stop carrying arms in public and dismantle all roadblocks.
Three Tuareg and Arab rebel movements announce their merger. Meanwhile insecurity continues to destabilize the country with a new attack occurring in northern Mali.
On Monday 4 November 2013, three Tuareg and Arab rebel movements in northern Mali announced their merger to form a united front in peace talks with authorities in the Malian capital city Bamako. According to reports, after several days of talks in Burkina Faso, which is the regional mediator for the conflict, representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) along with the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) adopted a “political platform,” a “negotiating committee,” and a joint “decision-making body.” The three rebel movements further indicated that the decision to merge was “guided by a common political will to prioritize the best interests of the people” of the vast northern desert region they call Azawad, adding that a political solution was the only option in securing peace. According to the groups, the merger will go ahead “within 45 days” after the membership of each of the groups had approved the move, adding that no name has yet been chosen for the new movement.
Meanwhile in the latest insecurity to hit the country, on Monday four people were killed in northern Mali after their truck ran over a land mine. According to a local government official in Menaka, four passengers were killed when a pick-up, which was transporting thirty-eight people between the desert towns of Ansongo and Menaka in the region of Gao, drove over the explosive device. Ibrahim Ag Moha further indicated that ‘four people died on the spot and eight others were injured, and are currently being taken to hospital in Menaka.” Two of the injured are reported to be in critical condition. The truck was a public transport vehicle. It currently remains unknown who is responsible for laying the mine however a report released by the United Nations earlier this year indicated that unexploded ordnance and land mines littering the West African nation remained a “significant threat.”
The latest unrest comes as the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Mali late on Monday to begin a regional tour that will highlight the battle against poverty. The Secretary General, along with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and top officials from the African Union, African Development Bank and European Union are scheduled to meet in Mali on Tuesday before travelling to Niger later that day and Burkina Faso and Chad on Wednesday. They are scheduled to meet the presidents of each country. Ahead of his visit to Mali, Mr. Ban stated that eleven million of the 80 million people living in the Sahel countries lack sufficient food.‘ According to a statement released by World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim, “the people of the Sahel region desperately need more secure living standards, and our hope is this funding helps build a new path for economic growth in the region.” The European Union and the World Bank have pledged more than US $8 billion in fresh aid for the Sahel region countries which have been affected by conflict.
The Secretary General’s official visit to Mali comes at a time when French and Malian troops are searching for the killers of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were kidnapped and shot dead by suspected terrorists on Saturday in the northeastern town of Kidal. The deaths of the two French journalists have further highlighted the ongoing security threat just three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections which are meant to mark the completion of Mali’s transition back to democracy following a military coup in March last year.