By Jemal Oumar
The leaders of last week’s military coup in Mali on Monday (March 26th) appealed for an end to hostilities in the country’s restive north, AFP reported.
“Everything is negotiable, except for national territorial integrity and the unity of our country,” coup captain Amadou Sanogo said on national television.
Mutinous soldiers last Wednesday seized power, claiming the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré was incapable of dealing with the Touareg rebellion. Mali’s north has been locked in intensive fighting between rebels and the government since mid-January.
Meanwhile, Touareg rebels ramped up military pressure. Harakat Ansar al-Din (Movement of Religious Supporters), which was formed by Iyad Ag Aghaly under the banner of sharia, last week-end claimed they were closing in on Kidal.
“Thanks to Allah the Almighty and his blessings, we will soon take our land in Kidal,” the Islamist group said in a Saturday communiqué.
While Azaouad was initially dominated by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA), it has grown more complex after Ag Aghaly switched his position from supporting the MNLA to advocating Islamic law.
“Those who support such an idea shall be deemed as an ally, and those who stand against it shall be our enemy,” RFI cited their statement on March 18th.
According to analyst Abu Bakr Ansari, this ideological twist “constitutes a new turning point in the course of on-going conflict with radical terrorist movements in the region”.
“Similarly, it has caused much embarrassment to Touareg groups that entered into alliance with him in the past months, and that have more than once decaled that they have nothing to do with AQIM,” he said in reference to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
MNLA leaders met with Ag Aghaly March 18th in Tessalit to talk him into abandoning radical approaches, but the latter rejected their calls, saying that his war is not for the liberation of Azaouad but for the enforcement of sharia, according to MaliWeb.
“This has led to splits between Touareg rebels and Iyad Ag Aghaly, and this was clear from a statement issued by MNLA political bureau on Monday (March 19th), in which they said that their demands are based on the principles of democracy and secularism away from the position of Ansar al-Din’s leader,” the Malian website reported.
MNLA executive bureau member Moussa Ag Acharatoumane confirmed this stance.
“Our position is clear and is not based on the implementation of Islamic sharia in the region,” he told Magharebia. “Therefore, we disagree with Harakat Ansar al-Din. However, I personally believe that his call won’t be welcomed by northern Mali’s residents because they have been Muslims for centuries, and Iyad Ag Aghaly’s calls won’t change their moderate beliefs or inclinations.”
He added that the leader of Ansar al-Din had “in the past had relations with AQIM leaders, such as Abdelkrim Tarki”.
Journalist Bab Ahmed, however, disputed the claims of AQIM connection, saying that Ag Aghaly’s ties to Tarki were simply a matter of “kinship”, since they come from the same tribe.
“There is no doubt that Iyad Ag Aghaly’s position, which calls for the implementation of sharia, would have noticeable impact in Azaouad given the great standing he enjoys as a former leader of the 1990s rebellion,” said Ahmed, who works for Jeune Afrique. “However, the question that arises now is: what are the mechanisms through which he will implement the Islamic sharia? Will it be through constitutional mechanisms or military force?”
“Iyad Ag Aghaly has always been accused of belonging to AQIM,” said writer Sheikh Ould Mohammed Harmah. “However, I believe that his adoption of the sharia is not aimed at confirming that affiliation, given that this is not in his interest. I think that the decision may be the result of hidden internal conflict between Harakat Ansar al-Din and MNLA to show its military weight.”