By Walid Ramzi
Algeria withdrew military advisors from northern Mali last week in an effort to force a political solution to the Touareg revolt.
The Algerian troops were partaking in joint counter-terror efforts, including training and equipment maintenance, and were flown home on an Algerian air force plane last weekend, El Khabar reported Saturday (January 28th).
Algeria’s decision to freeze military support to Mali came after the country halted counter-terror operations in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu and redirected troops towards areas now in rebellion. The decision was reportedly taken to prevent Mali from using Algeria’s military support against the Azaouad rebel movement. Algeria also froze delivery of military equipment pending an end to the fighting.
Algerian sources said that the decision was temporary and did not apply to long-term Algerian-Malian military agreements, adding that the move was aimed at forcing the two sides to reach a political solution.
Under multiple military agreements, including the Tamanrasset joint military command (CEMOC), Algeria pledged to provide logistical support to Malian army units stationed near the shared border and working in counter-terrorism efforts. Algeria also agreed to train military forces and police elements at several bases in Tamanrasset as well as at a Malian base where soldiers were trained the same way as Algerian Special Forces. Additionally, Algeria provided training to non-commissioned officers and officers at military schools.
Algerian Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel told reporters at a January 22nd press conference that the 2006 Algiers Agreement was “still suitable” for resolving disputes between Touareg rebels and the Bamako government. Messahel expressed a desire for Algeria to mediate further talks but added that any immediate negotiations were unlikely.
“We know that the Malian government is willing to move in this direction, and there are indicators that make us optimistic about the possibility of finding solutions in the framework of the Malian state laws,” Messahel said.
He added that Mali was prepared to work “through political and peaceful means to find a solution for any problem that may arise, especially in dealing with the recent events”.
As to speculation about a declaration of northern Mali independence, he said recent events were “completely different” from what happened in Sudan before it was divided into two states.
“We’re not faced with a scenario similar to that of Sudan,” the minister continued. “We’re far from that. The Malian government and tribal chiefs have a sincere will and sufficient wisdom and ability to find solutions.”
The minister also refused to link the Touareg rebellion and attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), saying that Algeria viewed them as “two different issues”.
Meanwhile, Algerian diplomats have launched mediation efforts between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA) and the Malian government through tribal intermediaries. Meetings were held with dignitaries from Tamanrasset, together with Algerian experts, in hopes of reaching a ceasefire.
At the same time, the local authorities in Tamanrasset and Adrar provinces started preparing for receiving waves of refugees fleeing the fighting in northern Mali. They fear an exodus similar to that of the 1980s in the wake of war between Mali’s government and Azaouad rebels.
The Algerian interior ministry shipped tents, covers, medical supplies and relief materials to the two provinces to deal with any influx of displaced people. The move came after some 100 families of northern Mali Touaregs entered the Algerian border last Thursday. Many of the refugees were in poor health, with some suffering from wounds sustained in battle.