Mali peace deal threatened as army, rebels clash

2015-04-30 10:48
File: AFP

File: AFP

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bamako - Armed insurgents exchanged fire with soldiers in Mali on Wednesday, plunging peace negotiations into disarray in the first clash this year between government forces and the main Tuareg rebel alliance.

A Malian army colonel said fighters from the Tuareg-led Co-ordination for the Movements of Azawad (CMA) had ambushed military positions in Lere, a central town near the Mauritanian border.

"Groups of armed Tuareg rebels have been attacking us since 16:00. We are fighting back and defending our positions," a Malian army colonel told AFP from the town.

The CMA had warned in a statement after it came under attack from a pro-government militia on Tuesday it had "no other choice than to use its right to exercise legitimate self-defence to protect civilians, its people and its positions".

The army source said the militants had arrived in several vehicles from the west of the town.

Fragile peace process

"We are under fire. Everybody is hiding at home. The rebels are shooting, the Malian army too," a local councillor told AFP by telephone as gunshots rang out in the background.

The attacks came on a day of violence which started when unidentified militants opened fire on troops at a national guard camp in northern Mali, killing two soldiers and a child, security sources told AFP.

The gunmen struck at 5:00 am in the former Islamist stronghold of Goundam, 80km from the ancient desert city of Timbuktu, a Malian security source said.

The head of MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, had voiced concerns for the west African nation's fragile peace process ahead of the attack.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed those concerns Wednesday, calling for an "immediate cessation of the hostilities in northern Mali" following "serious ceasefire violations" in recent days, according to a statement.

Deeply divided

On Monday, the pro-government Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group (GATIA) was accused of violating a ceasefire when it seized key rebel positions in the desert town of Menaka, while the UN vehicles were attacked by rebels on Tuesday.

The situation was calm on Wednesday in Menaka, where GATIA fighters have occupied the town hall, a MINUSMA source said.

Separate MINUSMA sources said militants appeared to have driven from the east ahead of Wednesday's attack in Goundam, adding that they stole cars belonging to the army and the government.

Mali was upended by a coup in 2012 which opened the door for Tuareg separatists to seize the towns and cities of the vast northern desert with the help of several Islamist groups.

The Tuareg were then sidelined by their one-time allies, extremists who imposed a brutal version of Islamic shariah in the region and destroyed historic buildings and artifacts in Timbuktu.

Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) took control of Goundam and destroyed shrines in the town of around 20 000, declaring them idolatrous.

The Islamists then pushed south toward Bamako, prompting France to deploy troops in January 2013 who drove them back into the country's mountains and vast desert, and Mali returned to democracy with the election in August of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The country remains deeply divided, however, with the impoverished north home predominantly to lighter-skinned Tuareg and Arab populations who accuse the sub-Saharan ethnic groups that live in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.

Threat to peace

The recent violence comes amid assurances by the CMA that it is committed to a deal to bring stability to Mali.

The government and a coalition of armed groups from the north known as the Platform have already signed the peace accord, brokered by Algeria under UN auspices over the past eight months.

But the CMA has been holding out ahead of the May 15 deadline, demanding an amendment guaranteeing political recognition for "Azawad", the name used by the Tuareg for the northern part of Mali.

"Unless there is a last-minute change, the CMA will initial the agreement before May 15," a Western diplomat in Bamako told AFP.

"In the interim, the CMA and government will hold direct talks."

The diplomat said 15 heads-of-state had been invited to the finalising of the accord in Bamako on May 15.

MINUSMA chief Mongi Hamdi said on Tuesday he had met rebel leaders over the weekend in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott who "confirmed their intention to initial the agreement".

But he voiced concerns that "months of intense negotiations involving all parties to put an end to the Malian crisis could be threatened" by renewed violence.

Mali's various rival factions agreed to a ceasefire in May last year after Tuareg and Arab rebels claimed control of Kidal and other northern towns, dealing a humiliating defeat to the Malian army.

Read more on:    tuaregs  |  mali  |  west africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.