Mali rebel groups unite to create new Islamist state
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Mali's secular Tuareg rebels and the Islamist militants Ansar Dine have agreed to join forces and create an independent Islamic state in the north of the country, the two factions announced in a joint statement on Saturday.
AFP - Tuareg rebels and the Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine announced Saturday they are joining forces and creating a body to rule northern Mali as an independent Islamic state.
"The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Tuareg MNLA) proclaim their dissolution in Azawad (northern Mali)," the two groups said in an agreement sent to AFP.
"The two movements have created the transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad," said the groups, which have been controlling the area for the past two months, in their "protocol agreement".
"We are all in favour of the independence of Azawad," they said, adding that "we all accept Islam as the religion."
The accord between the secular Tuareg and the Islamists comes after weeks of sometimes fraught discussions between two movements which have long been separated in their objectives and ideologies.
It also marks a major turning point for northern Mali which has slipped out of the government's control since a March coup.
In Gao, a major town in the north where leaders of the two movements have been holding talks, the sealing of the deal was greeted by the sound of guns being fired into the air, local residents said.
"Allah has triumphed," declared Sanda Ould Bouamama, an Ansar Dine spokesman in the northern Malian desert city of Timbuktu.
In January, the Tuareg rebels launched an offensive against the Malian army, which was heightened with the arrival on the scene of Ansar Dine, which wants Islamic Sharia law imposed throughout the land-locked west African nation.
A coup by Captain Amadou Sanogo and a group of low-ranking officers ousted the government in Bamako on March 22, saying it was incompetent in handling the Tuareg rebellion.
However the coup only opened the way for the Tuaregs, Ansar Dine -- led by the charismatic Ag Ghaly and backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- and criminal groups to occupy the vast north of the country, an area larger than France.
In a message earlier in the week Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of Al-Qaeda's African offshoot, advised combatants in northern Mali to impose Sharia law "gradually" so as to achieve the creation of an Islamic state.
The agreement between the Tuareg MNLA and Ansar Dine leaves AQIM's position in "Azawad" unclear, but certainly creates a fresh headache for the transitional authorities in Bamako and the West African bloc ECOWAS.
Mali's interim leaders stress their wish to restore the country's territorial integrity, but seem unable to impose their will on the restive north.
The prime minister of Mali's transitional government, Cheick Modibo Diarra, arrived in Abidjan Saturday for talks with ECOWAS head Alassane Ouattara, the president of Ivory Coast.
Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore is in France for a private visit and medical treatment after the 70-year-old was assaulted by protesters back home.
He is expected to return to Bamako next week.
Traore, already interim president from April 12, was appointed to lead the long-term transition after mediators from the 15-nation ECOWAS wrested a deal from coup leader Sanogo.
According to that deal, Sanogo will step aside with all the benefits of a former head of state.