By Jemal Oumar
The breakaway Touareg state of Azawad swore in an interim government Friday (June 15th) in Gao, despite a lack of recognition from the international community.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) established the interim authority unilaterally after a breakdown in talks with Islamist rebels Ansar al-Din. The secular-leaning MNLA originally declared an independent state in northern Mali on April 6th.
The inauguration ceremony, which featured a military parade, was attended by political elites, and important Azawadi and Amazigh religious and tribal figures who came from both inside and outside the region, as well as some diplomats and journalists, Azawad news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly reportedly said his group did not back the new Azawad interim council.
“We reject the council’s declaration and we also reject the division of Mali because we’re Malian. Our goal is to apply the Islamic Sharia all over Mali, in both the north and south,” maliweb.net quoted Ag Ghaly as saying Friday in Kidal.
For his part, Belal Ag Charif, who was elected head of interim council, said that his government extended a hand of co-operation to all local and international parties “based on a non-negotiable Azawad principle, which is represented in the Azawadi people’s right to self-determination and to running their own affairs themselves”.
The interim leader laid out priorities going forward, including establishing security, forging an Azawad army, and creating a charter “that would establish the main principles of an Azawad constitution, which would consider the Qur’an and Sunnah as the source of legislation and stress respect for cultural diversity, opinion and political orientations of Azawad citizens”.
Ag Charif also called for “serious negotiations with Mali’s legitimate representatives on outstanding issues between the two states”.
As to dealing with the terrorist groups in the region, Ag Charif called on all armed Azawad groups to take part in the comprehensive national project which doesn’t exclude anyone and doesn’t accept anyone from outside. However, he rejected any military intervention in the region, saying calls for it were irresponsible.
However, some residents of Azawad viewed the interim government with scepticism, particularly with the presence armed groups such as Ansar al-Din, al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) that do not recognise the council.
“I think that there are challenges facing this council because it doesn’t have the representation of all political and armed factions in Azawad, and even the civil society is absent from its formation,” al-Mouloud Ould Ramadan, an Azawad Arabs spokesperson, told Magharebia. “As Arabs, we weren’t invited to participate, Ansar al-Din refused to take part, AQIM has a presence in Timbuktu and its suburbs, and the MNLA can’t militarily confront it.”
“The new government should have invited all citizens of this region to a comprehensive conference to discuss issues of concern to all of us,” he concluded. “In this way, we would come out with a clear view and form a vision about peacefully or militarily expelling al-Qaeda.”
But Mubarak Ag Mohamed from the MNLA media office told Magharebia that authorities were optimistic that all armed Azawad groups would join them, adding they would “wisely deal with non-Azawadis until they get out of our land”.
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to keep up with the work of new council, Gao young people formed what they called the “Co-ordination of Azawad Young Volunteers” (CJVA) led by al-Mubarak Ag al-Bashir with the aim of rescuing youths from Ansar al-Din, AQIM and MUJAO and monitoring the work of interim council.
“This co-ordination includes youths from all ethnicities in Azawad,” Mohamed Ag Ahmedu, a journalist and a member of the new group, told Magharebia. Ag Ahmedu explained that it was his group that mobilised people to take to the streets in demonstrations against extremists.
“In our work, we depend on persuasion and guidance to make young people renounce jihadist ideology because the extremist groups wash the brains of those young people,” he said.