The cease-fire announced by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), engaged in a conflict since January 17 with the Malian army in the vast northern region, entered in force at midnight.
“In light of the total liberation of the territory of Azawad and the strong call of the international community, in particular the Security Council, US, France and nations of the region, we have decided to unilaterally declare the end of military operations as of midnight on Thursday, April 5”, reads a statement signed by the secretary general Bilal Ag Acherif, released in Gao and published on the MNLA site. In the statement, the movement also calls on all the sides involved to “protect the people of Azawad from any aggression by Mali”.
The situation remains confused and uncertain, in particular internally and the weight of the two main rebel groups – aside from the MNLA also the Islamic inspired branch headed by Ansar al Din – for control over the three major cities. While the MNLA claims it has maintained posts in Timbuktu and all other towns of Azawad, the international media reports that the Islamic wing controls Timbuktu and in Gao there is a balance between the two.
Also the head of the military junta Captain Amadou Sanogo intervened on the “emergency” situation in the North, denouncing “serious human rights violations committed in Gao”. He added that “women and girls were raped and abducted by the new occupants who are trying to enforce their own law”.
In an interview released to the French ‘Le Monde’ and ‘Libération’ newspapers, Captain Sanogo called for an intervention of the world powers “against the enemy known by all that is not in Bamako but in the North”, warning that “it is no longer a simple rebellion, but Islamic groups. If you leave Mali alone with this problem, Africa and the world will pay the consequences”.
The leader of the junta instead remained indifferent to the announcement of the cease-fire by the MNLA, claiming that “no distinctions can be made between armed groups. Until they continue reaping terror, we will not. The door however remains open to dialogue, but we will not negotiate the integrity of the territory”.
Meanwhile, on the political front of the Malian crisis, the National Convention convened yesterday by the junta to define the modalities and times of a transfer to civil rule is entirely stalled. The proposal was formally rejected by the FDR (United Front for the Safeguard of Democracy), a coalition of the main political forces, defining the Convention “contrary and incompatible with a return to regular Constitutional life”, adding that “the names of the participants, aims and organization modalities were not even established”.
New restrictive decisions may be adopted against them: the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) called another meeting today in Abidjan. The Chiefs of Staff of the regional body should establish the procedures for the deployment of a regional military force that could count up to 3,000 members.
The Un Security Council yesterday approved a declaration, proposed by France, condemning the March 22 coup and demanding “the return of the democratic elected institutions”. In regard to the North, the 15-member Council urged “an immediate end to the violence and violations”, expressing deep concern over “the presence in the region of the AQMI terrorist group” and suggesting “to seek a peaceful solution through political dialogue”. Also yesterday Washington decided to suspend assistance to Mali: at least 13 of the annual $140 million will be blocked. The funds were destined to the public health sector, construction of schools and relaunching of farm production. The measure will have direct repercussions on the population, largely poor and already facing a severe food crisis.