Schism in Ansar Dine in Northern Mali

After the fourteenth day of French involvement combatting Islamic extremists in Mali, a schism has appeared in Ansar Dine, one of the three predominant groups occupying northern Mali.

The Islamic Movement of Azawad condemns “in the most solemn manner all forms of extremism and terrorism … and reaffirms its independence and its desire to move towards a peaceful solution to the crisis in Mali.” the newly-formed moderate group announced in a statement received by the Agence France Presse.

Their statement also called on Malian and French forces to cease hostilities and begin “inclusive political dialogue” in the north-eastern Kidal and Menaka regions of Mali, roughly 15oo km from Bamako, near the Nigerian border.

The use of the Tamasheq term ‘Azawad’ appeared to further signal a willingness among the group’s Tuareg ranks to distance themselves from the insurgency’s mainly foreign leadership. Made up of a large Tuareg base, but claiming to be “composed exclusively ” of Malian nationals, MIA raises a point of concern in the region, where a year ago the Tuareg people took up arms against Mali in an attempt to gain their independence in northern Mali, what they call Azawad, their historic land.

This struggle weakened both the Malian and Tuareg forces, and allowed for Islamist extremist organizations, Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for uniqueness and jihad in West Africa (Mujao) to fill the power void, and begin governing through a violent veil of Sharia (Islamic law.)

The organization appears to be a continuation of the pro-Azawad MNLA, and is led by Alghabasse Ag Intalla, the leader of a prominent Tuareg family from Kidal, and a former negotiator from the Ansar Dine’s moderate wing.

West African and Algerian negotiators have for months been trying to get Ansar Dine to sever links with AQIM and MUJAO in an effort to comprise their foreign fighters.

“There has to be a ceasefire so there can be talks,” Alghabasse said according to a Guardian article, speaking from the town of Kidal, a Tuareg stronghold in north-east Mali seized by Ansar Dine last year. “The aim is to speak about the situation in the north.”

He said the new group, which would be based in Kidal, had been in touch with mediators in Burkina Faso and Algerian authorities. He said rebel demands would be for a broad autonomy rather than independence for the north.

On the ground, these three groups had been under bombardment for 14 days by French airstrikes, aimed in particular at strongholds in Gao and Timbuktu.

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