Tuareg Rebels Declare Independent State in Northern Mali
The Tuareg rebel group that played a leading role in driving out government troops from the north of Mali has declared an independent state, fulfilling for the first time the aim of every Tuareg rebellion over the last 50 years.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The declaration of an independent state in the Azawad region of northern Mali marks the greatest success yet for the Tuareg secessionist movement that has been fighting for autonomy since the country's independence from France in 1960.
The declaration, while not internationally recognised, highlights the complete rout of government forces from the north and the resultant power vacuum, but may be contested by Tuareg Islamist rebels that are seeking the imposition of Shari'a law in the newly captured territory.
Clashes between the Islamists and the main Tuareg rebel movement known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) are likely in the near term as the aims of the both sides prove irreconcilable and they compete to control strategic towns and regions.
The Tuareg rebel group that launched a rebellion against the Malian government in the north on 17 January 2012 has declared its own independent state after it succeeded in driving out the army from the north in conjunction with Islamist groups. A spokesman for the MNLA, Moussa Ag Attahir, confirmed on France 24 television the statement posted on the group's website today (6 April) declaring independence for the Azawad region, which Malian Tuaregs see as their ancestral homeland, thus achieving what successive Tuareg rebellions have fought for since the country's independence from France in 1960. "We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today," Attahir said, adding that the MNLA would "respect the borders with other states". The MNLA was formed as an amalgamation of several hard-line Tuareg groups late last year and made the autonomy of the Azawad region its primary stated objective before launching the initial offensive on garrisons in northern border towns in January 2012 (see Mali: 7 November 2011: Dissident Malian Tuareg Group Could Declare Own State in North—Spokesman). The MNLA yesterday (5 April) called for "an end to all military operations" in the north, signifying the end of the uprising and highlighting the dearth of Malian government presence in the north following the rout of its army from the regional capitals of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu between 30 March and 1 April 2012. A statement was not immediately available from the military junta, the National Council for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), which took power in a 21 March 2012 coup that overthrew the democratically-elected administration of President Amadou Toumani Touré and threw the country into political uncertainty, fatally compromising the military effort in the north.
The declaration of independence has been rejected by former colonial power France and neighbouring Algeria, with French defence minister Gerard Longuet stating that any legitimisation of the self-declared new state would have to come from African states first, saying that "a unilateral declaration that was not recognised by African states would have no meaning". Regional heavyweight Algeria issued its own statement condemning the partition of the country, saying through Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia that its government "will never accept questioning Mali's territorial integrity".
Outlook and Implications
The emergence of a functioning, sovereign state in northern Mali is currently impossible due to the dearth of infrastructure, formal economy and appropriate institutions of governance. The MNLA has yet to outline what form the new government would take, where the capital would be or how the new state would function. The presence of Islamist networks, including the Tuareg Salafist group Ansar al-Din, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and various other insurgent groups and criminal gangs in the north that thrive on anarchy and lawlessness, will seek to prevent the MNLA from imposing a degree of law and order or legitimately controlling the whole territory, especially since Ansar al-Din fighters drove out MNLA units with which they had collaborated to capture Timbuktu. Clashes between elements of the two over territory and ideological goals—the MNLA's goals are primarily political while the Islamists seek the imposition of Shari'a—are likely imminent, while regional powers and the international community look on nervously as the potential for northern Mali to develop into a safe haven for jihadist groups grows (see Mali: 4 April 2012: Islamists Gain Upper Hand in Parts of Northern Mali).
The military junta in Bamako continues to call frantically for international assistance to reclaim the north after its stated aim of bolstering the war effort in the north spectacularly backfired—a request that is likely to continue to fall on deaf ears until the CNRDR relinquishes power to a civilian government and the problem in the north can begin to be addressed adequately. The CNRDR continues to play for time despite the imposition of substantial sanctions by the international community, but its position is likely to become increasingly tenuous after its absolute inability to hold the north resulted in the MNLA's declaration of independence.
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