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.
Diplomats indicated on Wednesday that the UN Security Council is expected to soon authorize 4,000 more troops in order to boost the African force that is battling resurgent al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. According to reports, the council is likely to allow a new upper limit of about 22,000 troops for the African Union force, which is known as AMISOM. During a recent Security Council meeting on Somalia, which specifically focused on efforts to support the country’s interim government, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that advances made by the African force, along with the Somali army, had “ground to a halt” because it lacked a sufficient number of troops. According to the UN Deputy, al-Shabaab “is mobile and is training and recruiting substantial numbers of frustrated, unemployed young men.” During the meeting, the UN Deputy reaffirmed an earlier call made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union for “a significant temporary boost” to AMISOM’s numbers. In a recent report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General indicated that there is an urgent need to reinforce AMISOM in order to move into southern Somalia to “deny Shebaab the opportunity to raise resources and to forcefully recruit and train personnel.” Britain is drawing up a resolution on increasing the force, which is expected to be voted by the Security Council in mid-November. The resolution would effectively allow for an increase of about 4,000 troops in order to allow an upper limit for AMISOM of about 22,000 troops. The call for an increase in troops comes amidst mounting warning pertaining to al-Shabaab’s increasing threat after the Nairobi shopping mall attack last month. While the AMISOM force, along with the Somali army, have pushed al-Shabaab militants out of the capital city, along with other major cities, over the past eighteen months, al-Shabaab has been able to regroup and stage large and elaborate attacks, such as the one on Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 17. In turn, suicide bombers have been able to stage attacks in Mogadishu, which is government controlled. If the increase in troops is to pass in a Security Council vote, the new deployment of troops will likely be tasked with focusing on removing al-Shabaab militants from the southern region of Somalia, particularly from their new stronghold of Barawe. In recent weeks, the town has been the focus of two missions carried out by US forces. The first focused on targeting a senior al-Shabaab commander, known as Ikrima, while the second, a drone strike, killed three al-Shabaab commanders, including the militant group’s top bomb-maker. In turn, sources indicate that al-Shabaab militants stationed in Barawe have been planning attacks not only throughout the rest of the country, but regionally as well.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Somalia’s President visited the southern port city of Kismayo on Thursday, which is a former al-Shabaab stronghold that is now controlled by a warlord who has long been opposed to the region being controlled by the central government in Mogadishu. While no further details of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s visit have been released by his spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, the trip does signal a step forward in relations with the breakaway region. Shortly after the President’s visit, al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab boasted that the group’s militants fired dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the “infidel leader,” however officials have dismissed this claim. The president’s spokesman later confirmed that “there was no mortar attacks at Kismayo airport contrary to al-Shabaab claims.” The visit also comes amidst efforts to increase support for the central government and is seen as a bid to combat the threat from al-Shabaab militants who continue to control large areas around the port city. Kismayo, which is patrolled by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean troops from the African Union force, is controlled by the Ras Kamboni militia of warlord Ahmed Madobe, who has claimed leadership over the southern semi-autonomous region of Jubbaland. The region lies in the far south of Somalia, bordering both Kenya and Ethiopia, and its control is split between multiple forces including clan militias, al-Shabaab and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabaab forces currently control their last major port at Barawe, which is located some 250 kilometers northeast of Kismayo. However African Union forces are moving closer to capturing control of the town. Taking Barawe would result in al-Shabaab loosing a vital area and in turn, it would link up AU forces who are currently split between Jubbaland and Mogadishu.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has released an arrest warrant for Ivorian ex-minister Charles Ble Goude pertaining to charges over war crime allegations. According to the ICC, he is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity which occurred during the violence that erupted following the 2010 disputed elections in the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile in Guinea, the country’s President has called on the opposition to accept the results of Saturday’s vote. While the provisional results have yet to be announced by the country’s electoral commission, security in the capital city has increased as the atmosphere has been tense.
ICC Makes 2011 Arrest Warrant Public
While the Ivory Coast’s Charles Ble Goude, 40, has denied leading pro-Laurent Gbagbo militias in the violent attacks that occurred shortly after the 2010 elections, the ICC has indicated that Mr. Ble Goude, who is currently detained in the Ivory Coast, is suspected of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts that were committed between December 2010 and April 2011. During that time, some 3,000 people lost their lives in the crisis after ex-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat. Judges in The Hague have stated that forces loyal to former President Gbagbo targeted civilians who backed his opponent, the Ivory Coasts current President Alassane Ouattara. Although the arrest warrant for Mr. Ble Goude was issued in December 2011, it has only now been made public and it describes the Ivorian ex-minister as a member of Mr. Gbagbo’s “inner circle.”
Following the post election violence, Mr. Ble Goude spent more than eighteen months in hiding. He was arrested in January 2013 in Ghana and extradited to the Ivory Coast, where he also faces war crimes charges. He has previously stated that as head of the Young Patriots group, he had only organised rallies and meetings and that he never ran a militia. Mr. Ble Goude, who was placed under United Nations sanctions in 2006 for allegedly inciting attacks against UN personnel, has indicated that he is prepared to go in front of the ICC in order to clear his name.
Ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, 67, was arrested in 2011 and is currently awaiting trial, on four charges of crimes against humanity relating to the election violence, at The Hague. The former president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, has also been indicted by the ICC however the Ivory Coast’s ministers have voted to dismiss the ICC warrant and have instead indicated that they will try her in the country’s own courts.
Tensions Increase as Guineas Await Election Results
On Wednesday, in the midst of security being increased throughout the capital city amid fears of violence, Guinean President Alpha Conde urged party leaders to accept the results of the September 28 legislative polls. While the results have not yet been confirmed, the President has praised the vote, calling it the dawn of democracy in the West African state which has been chronically hit with instability. During Conde’s speech, which marked the 55th anniversary of Guinea’s independence from France, the President stated “I would like to say how proud I am…of your amazing mobilization to make these legislative polls a real success.” The 75-year-old added that the election “has allowed us to take another step on the path to democracy.” However while the president has urged for calm as the election results begin to trickle in, the country’s main opposition parties have already stated that the elections were rigged. On Tuesday, Guinea’s electoral commission released some partial and provisional results. Although full provisional results had been due to be released on Wednesday, officials indicated late on Tuesday that tally sheets were still being transported from polling stations.
On Wednesday, police and military reinforcements were visible on the streets of Conakry, with barricades being set up around the headquarters of the electoral commission. Despite the independence day bank holiday, an increased number of shops and market stalls remained shut as the atmosphere continued to be tense.
World leaders meeting at the G20 Summit in Russia remained divided over military action in Syria. The Syrian crisis, and prospect of military action, has overshadowed the official agenda of the summit, which was intended to focus on the world’s top economies and emerging markets in order to stimulate growth and battle tax avoidance. While talks on Syria dominated the first day of the summit, it was not immediately clear if the leaders would have another chance to discuss the issue on the summit’s second day or if the main session would focus on purely economic issues. What does remain clear is that tensions between the United States and Russia have reached a new low.
Despite not being on the original agenda of the summit, which is hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, global leaders discussed the Syria crisis over a working dinner on Thursday, which lasted into the early morning hours. However there was no breakthrough during the dinner as leaders, including US President Barack Obama, presented their positions on the Syria crisis. The discussions, which failed to bridge the divisions over US plans which are seeking military action against the Syrian regime, also confirmed the extent of global divisions on the issue. A Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying that “some states were defending the view the rushed measures should be taken, overlooking legitimate international institutions. Other states appealed not to devalue international law and not to forget that only the UN Security Council has the right to decide on using force.” While a high-ranking source close to the talks indicated that there was a disappointing lack of ambition at the dinner on the Syria issue, noting that Putin as host was keen not to aggravate tensions further, a French diplomatic source highlighted that while discussions indicated a sharp divide amongst the leaders, the overall objective of the dinner “was an exchange between the top world leaders and not to come to an agreement.” Outside of the summit, several Western states share Mr. Putin’s opposition to military action, and after last week’s vote in the British parliament, which resulted in the UK government voting against strikes, France is the only power to have vowed that it will join American intervention if US officials go ahead with military action.
Mr. Putin has emerged as one of the most inflexible critics of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has been accused of allegedly using chemical weapons in an attack that was carried out on 21 August. Putin’s comments that any move without the UN’s blessing would be an aggression, remained unchanged throughout the Summit. China also insists that any action without the UN would be illegal.
Meanwhile on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that military strikes could spark further sectarian violence in the country which he said is suffering from a humanitarian crisis “unprecedented” in recent history, adding that “I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence.” The UN is also appealing for more aid for the estimated two million Syrians who have fled their country, in which another 4.25 million are internally displaced. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday that the UK would provide an additional £52 million (US $80 million) in aid for Syrian, in which much of it will go towards medical training and equipment in order to help those civilians who have been targeted by chemical attacks.