Mali Tuaregs Want Independence Despite Post-war Election

Mali rebels
In 10 days, Mali will face a second round of its first post-war presidential election. The peaceful first round of the election was held last Sunday, after one year of a devastating war, and Mali still faces a risk of split. The Northern Tuareg rebels are still asking for complete independence for the region under their control. None of the 28 candidates running for the presidency received a majority of the vote, according to provisional results announced Friday. The two top candidates are, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former Malian Prime Minister and speaker of the country’s parliament – received about 39.2 percent of the 3.1 million votes – and former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, who received 19.4 percent. The election will go ahead on August 11 election and is the first to be held since last year’s coup.

International observers said that the election was held in a peaceful climate throughout Mali’s territory. The only problem cited was the very low turnout in the Northern region of Kidal.

Chief European Union observer, Louis Michel, recognized that voting in Kidal, the heart of the Tuareg rebellion in Mali’s desert north that sparked the crisis last year, was muted and overshadowed by minor protests. “None of these incidents, none of these imperfections could jeopardize the legitimacy of the results,” Michel said. Nevertheless, another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the low turnout in Kidal is an indication of the tension which could blow up anytime. “There is no difference in opinion between the observer missions. But the lack of participation in Kidal shows how tricky it will be for whoever comes in,” said the diplomat.

Everywhere else in Mali, the turnout was more than 50 percent, exceeding the 40 percent turnout for the last presidential election.

In Kidal, slogans such as “We are not Malians” and “Azawad”, the name of the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), can be read on bullet-riddled walls throughout the region. Leaders of the Touareg rebel movements did not wait for the presidential election’s final results to restate their demand. “We expect the next president to begin talks with us in line with what was envisaged in Ouagadougou,” said Sidi Mohammed Ag Sarid, homeland security spokesman for the MNLA.\

With a third of the votes counted, Mali’s former prime minister Keita is comfortably leading the 26 others contenders among whom is, for the first time of Malian history, a woman.

The northen Islamists of Kidal, who fought against the Malian government to claim the independence, are not opposed to an eventual Keita victory even though they did not take part in this election. “Ibrahim Boubacar Keita may be the man for the job, given his past,” Sarid said.

The West African nation’s minister of territorial administration confirmed that Keita holds a comfortable lead and could win an outright first-round victory in a critical election. Keita, or whosoever wins the Malian presidential election, will have to cope with the Tuaregs’ separatist inclinations. Mali’s civil war lasted from January 2012 to March 2013. The MNLA was joined by the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) which included Ansar Dine, an Islamist militant group close to Al-Qaeda, fighting against the Ouagadougou government. The war caused extensive damage, mostly in the Nnorthern region, where historical monuments and Mosques were destroyed. The war ended with the intervention of French troops.

Tuareg rebels were then confined in camps in the northern region, pending an “inclusive dialogue” between the new Malian administration and the rebels. According to the Ouagadougou accords signed between all parties, these talks must be held within 60 days after the new cabinet is formed.

Meanwhile, the climate remains tense between rebels and the Malian troops patrolling the northern region.

The real problem is cultural. For a long time, relations between the majority black communities in Mali and the Tuareg and Arab minorities have been strained. The rebels exploit the tension but say they are not interested in ethnic conflict.

Eddy Isango

Sources: Reuters and AFP, AP, RFI

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