Tuareg rebels declare independence in north Mali

A spokesman for the Malian Tuareg rebel group, MNLA, told FRANCE 24 on Friday that it had declared the independence of the northern region of Azawad, calling for a unilateral ceasefire after claiming to have successfully conquered the area.


“We declare the independence of Azawad from this day on,” spokesman Mossa Ag Attaher from the Malian Turaeg rebel group, MNLA, told FRANCE 24 on Friday.

“Since the coup, we have had no functioning institution, constitution or government, so our national liberation movement has put in place an army capable of securing our land”.

Attaher claimed that his MNLA group (Mouvement National pour la Liberation de l’Azawad) had “some international legality” through an “executive office capable of forming democratic institutions”. Stressing the region’s right to autonomy, Attaher spoke of “the massacres and actions against the people of Azawad for 50 years since Mali's independence”.

The rebel group, which has been making advances across the north of Mali for months, said that they would halt military operations from midnight Thursday after having secured the region that they call Azawad. They also promised to “respect all the colonial frontiers that separate Azawad from its neighbours”.

Islamist neighbours

Despite Attaher’s claim that the MLNA is in full control of Azawad, the situation on the ground is confusing with reports emerging that in some regions the Ansar Dine Islamist militant group is in fact in control.

“From what we know, the MNLA is in charge of nothing at the moment ... it is Iyad [Ag Ghaly, leader of Ansar Dine] who is the strongest and he is with AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb]”, a Malian security source told AFP on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, armed Islamists had stormed the Algerian consulate in the northeastern city of Gao and abducted seven diplomats.

According to residents of the nearby city of Timbuktu, fundamentalists have begun imposing sharia law in the streets, forcing women to wear headscarves and long skirts.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Tuesday night, MNLA spokesman Hama Ag Sid Ahmed denied that his group has any links with AQIM, but acknowledged some “confusion” on the ground. The two groups are thought to maintain a fraught alliance.

In the south of the country, the junta leaders which seized power in a coup on March 22 remained steadfast in Bamakot. Ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré remains holed up in a secret location in the capital.

Amnesty International warned on Thursday that the arid north is facing a humanitarian catastrophe as medicine and food supplies run low.

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