By Jemal Oumar
Islamist fighters in northern Mali on Wednesday (July 11th) drove Touareg rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) out of their final stronghold.
“The Touareg rebels were driven out by the Islamists from their last bastion, Ansogo, situated 100km north of Gao,” a local government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Now our whole region is in the hands of Islamists,” he said.
“From the Niger border, passing through Ansogo before arriving in Gao, I didn’t see a single MNLA fighter. They have all left. It is the Islamists who are in charge,” Malian doctor Albert Djigue told AFP.
The latest fighting broke a tenuous peace agreement, signed on July 3rd between the MNLA and the Islamist fighters loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Sahara Media reported that Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly had brokered talks that helped halt military escalation between al-Qaeda offshoot Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the MNLA in Gao.
Ag Ghaly reportedly arrived in Gao from Kidal on June 28th in a convoy of 60 vehicles equipped with arms and ammunition. He met with both representatives of Islamist groups and MNLA colonels.
“The information circulating says that Iyad Ag Ghaly was able to convince the two parties to sign a written commitment providing for an immediate halt to military confrontations and not targeting the other party,” MNLA activist Annara Ag Elwali told Magharebia.
“But the question posed by all citizens of the city and those engaged in MNLA is – will the terrorists abide by the agreement?” Ag Elwali asked, adding that people still lived “in a state of anxiety”.
“They no longer trust those extremist groups, which can attack at any time without taking into account the feelings of humanity,” he said.
Ansar al-Din spokesperson Sanda Ould Bouamama admitted that there was “mediation” between the two groups but did not delve into details.
“For us in the Ansar al-Din movement, our principle is very clear, which is to live in peace with all those who wish to do so, meaning anyone who accepts the rule of God,” he said. “As for those calls and demands that worship the West and are closer to it, we are against them and reject them dictating our policies.”
Even before the fragile peace was broken, many observers had qualms about Islamists’ readiness to cease fighting.
“This step is more than absurd, because it seeks to fix what cannot be repaired,” said analyst Abdul Hamid El-Ansari from northern Mali. “The terrorist movements and MNLA are opposite sides and this armed conflict that occurred between them is merely an indicator of the depth of their differences and cross-purposes.”
“I think the opportunity is now suitable for the MNLA to get rid of terrorist groups in alliance with the Western powers, which will inevitably intervene in the coming days,” he added,
The MNLA need to “waive some radical demands for secession”, according to the analyst, and “extend a helping hand to the world”.
“They will receive an overwhelming response and have a future in the region in the framework of autonomy or a federation without terrorist organisations,” El-Ansari concluded.