By Jemal Oumar
As negotiations drag on between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar al-Din, new resistance to the continued presence of armed Islamic groups is emerging.
Just a few hours after the end of a May 13th meeting in which the two sides agreed to disarm militias and declare an interim government, former Malian army Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou announced the birth of a movement with 1,000 men supplied with 250 military vehicles.
The goals of the new Republican Movement for the Reconstruction of Azawad (MRRA) are to combat Islamic armed groups in northern Mali and to demand political autonomy for Azawad, group spokesperson Ishaq Ag Housseyni said.
He added that his movement includes “various social components of Azawad, such as Songhai and Fula nationalities, Arabs and Touaregs who seek broad autonomy for Azawad within the framework of the Malian republic”, temoust.org cited him as saying.
The MRRA spokesperson demanded the fighters of the MNLA and the National Front for the Liberation of Azawad who want autonomy join them so that they can expel the armed groups from northern Mali provinces.
Ag Housseyni made a similar appeal to the international community to provide necessary means to fight these armed groups and to establish stability and security for the region’s civilians, noting that any delay would consolidate the presence of terrorists in the north.
Gao-based journalist Mohamed Ag Ahmedu explained that the “sudden appearance of Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou who fled in early April with his pro-Malian army military forces under strikes by Ansar al-Din and the MNLA will change the balance of power and delay the endeavours of the MNLA which is doing its best to ensure full independence from Mali”.
“The talk about the option to stay under the Malian government from a Touareg leader who has his own political weight and military force in the region, and his talk about ethnic diversity in Azawad where many groups of black people are living, has strongly encouraged demonstrations led by young people from the Songhai ethnicity in Gao against the armed groups, including the MNLA, which considers itself to be wanted by local populations,” Ag Ahmedu added.
The demonstrations that were staged Monday evening by Songhai young people, the predominate ethnic group in Gao, coincided with the appearance of the MRRA. Demonstrators called for the departure of armed groups, such as Ansar al-Din, al-Qaeda and the MNLA. They also removed the flags of these movements and replaced them with the Malian flag. As a result, the demonstration was dispersed by force and at least five people were wounded, AFP reported citing a medical source in Gao.
Moussa Seidu, a Gao resident, told Magharebia that “demonstrators chanted slogans condemning Islamic groups that prevented them from playing football, and vowed to expel them from town.”
“The anger of demonstrators was so strong that they challenged the fears that have been haunting them since the Islamic groups came,” Seidu added. “They were saying that they no longer fear death or humiliation.”
Gunshots over their heads by MNLA and Ansar al-Din dispersed the protestors. However, MNLA representatives downplayed the importance of the rally.
“We don’t consider what happened Monday evening to be a demonstration; rather, they were just moves by a certain group that was mobilised and exploited by entities known to us,” Mubarak Ag Mohamed, a member of the MNLA media office, told Magharebia. “Their goal is to stop the independence of Azawad and impede our march towards reconciliation.”
“The march of those young people was dispersed by force by MNLA and Ansar al-Din,” Ag Mohamed concluded. “The situation is very calm today, and life has returned to normal.”