Global powers dismiss Tuaregs’ declared independence
The African Union, the US and several European countries have rejected the Tuaregs’ self-proclaimed independence in northern Mali, with neighbouring states calling for Tuareg rebels to respect the West African nation’s territorial integrity.
AFP - Mali's Tuareg rebels declared independence Friday in the north, a move rejected by the international community and the Islamist insurgents they fought beside, as fears grew of a humanitarian crisis.
The United States, Africa and Europe dismissed the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad's (MNLA) declaration of independence.
The declaration, long a goal of Tuareg rebels, is a bid to formalise the situation on the ground, where the the country had been split in two by their uprising.
A democratic success since its last coup 21 years ago, Mali is now roughly divided into a Tuareg rebel-controlled north and junta-controlled south.
Complicating the picture, a radical Islamist group, Ansar Dine, has exploited the chaos to swoop in and install sharia law in parts of the north.
But while for a while the Islamists fought in concert with the MNLA, they have given short shrift to their independence plans.
"Our war is a holy war," Ansar Dine military chief Omar Hamaha said.
"It's a legal war in the name of Islam. We are against rebellions. We are against independence. We are against revolutions not in the name of Islam."
Hamaha was speaking in a video obtained by AFP and France 2 television, filmed on Tuesday and Wednesday after the Islamists' takeover of the fabled city of Timbuktu.
It showed one group of rebels loitering outside a military camp, with their black flag draped over the name of the barracks above the entrance.
In other scenes in the video, small groups of women walked along the city's streets. Some wore full-face veils but most simply covered their hair with scarves.
Hamaha said they had "more than 120 prisoners" including thieves.
"We have tied them up and taken their weapons. We beat them well and it's likely we will slit their throats," he added in unedited footage. It was not clear if this threat was directed at all prisoners.
In the city of Gao, witnesses said Ansar Dine had kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats, reports confirmed by the Algerian foreign ministry.
While the Islamists appeared to have the upper hand, the separatist MNLA on Friday morning declared the independence of their desert homeland, which they call Azawad, and where several rebellions have played out in past decades.
This latest one was fuelled by a flood of weapons -- and returning Tuareg fighters -- from Libya following Moamer Kadhafi's downfall.
"We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today," Mossa Ag Attaher, a Paris-based MNLA spokesman said on France 24 television, confirming a statement on the group's website.
He told AFP the group was ready to help fight the "terrorism" of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
But the international community swiftly rejected their proclamation.
The African Union dismissed it as "null and of no value whatsoever", while the European Union and United States both called for respect of Mali's "territorial integrity".
Britain said it was temporarily closing its embassy in Mali due to the "unstable" situation and "lack of constitutional rule".
Algeria, Mauritania and Niger are to meet on Sunday to discuss the crisis in their troubled neighbour, Algeria's APS news agency reported.
Some analysts have warned it will not be easy to dislodge the Tuareg from the north now that they have staked their claim.
But at the same time West Africa expert Paul Melly of London-based Chatham House said Mali could not be considered "definitively partitioned".
"Much of the population of the north ... is made up of sub-Saharan Africa ethnic groups such as the Songhai and the Fulani, who consider themselves to be Malian and have no interest in an independent Tuareg state."
Amnesty International warned that north Mali was on the brink of a "major humanitarian disaster". Oxfam and World Vision said crippling sanctions against the junta could have devastating consequences.
"All the food and medicine stored by major aid agencies has been looted and most of the aid workers have fled," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty's researcher on west Africa.
"The population is at imminent risk of severe food and medical shortages that could lead to many casualties especially among women and children who are less able to fend for themselves."
More than 200,000 people have fled since the rebellion began in mid-January.
Angry at government's handling of the insurgency a group of low-ranking soldiers lead by Captain Amadou Sanogo on March 22 ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure just weeks before he was due to step down after an election.
But in the weeks following the coup the Tuareg and Islamist fighters made even greater gains, tightening their grip on the northern regions.