Mali: The Thousand Year Old Grudge

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February 20, 2015: Over half the people in northern Mali are pro-government and not enthusiastic about the Tuareg and Arab rebels getting more autonomy. Many believe this could lead to local warlords establishing their own little kingdoms and doing what they want. The Tuareg tribes have long seen this kind of autonomy as their right because for centuries that was what they had. A French colonial government put an end to that in the 19 th century and the post-colonial democracy (dominated by the black African majority in the south) has tried to keep the Tuareg in line for half a century. While the French troops were too much to handle the Tuareg had been successfully raiding the black Africans down south for over a thousand years. But that does not work anymore since the black Africans got guns and other modern weapons. But in the last few decades the heavily armed Tuareg, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, have been increasingly successful in challenging government rule.

The French intervention two years ago shut down a successful Tuareg rebellion that had been hijacked by al Qaeda groups that were not getting along with each other or the locals. The largely African UN peacekeepers who followed behind the French are seen as an obstacle to Tuareg autonomy while most of the locals expect the peacekeepers to suppress all Tuareg misbehavior immediately just like the French did to the al Qaeda factions. The French and the neighbors tell the Mali government and the rebels that they have to work out a deal satisfactory to both sides. That is the only acceptable (to the neighbors, foreign aid donors, the UN and France) solution. Islamic terrorists are also an issue, but Islamic terrorism is relatively new in this region while the animosity between the Tuareg and Arabs with the blacks to the south has been going on for over a thousand years.

Most northerners are concerned with more immediate concerns, like food, water and jobs. The rebels and Islamic terrorists have done great damage to the local economy over the last three years and the majority of northerners (Tuareg, Arab and black) want peace. Even the rebels understand that foreign aid, as well as foreign investment and the lucrative foreign tourists, won’t return until there is a peace deal.

The French counter-terrorism effort in the north has been successful at keeping the remaining Islamic terrorists from expanding or even establishing permanent bases. But because of sanctuaries in neighboring Libya the Islamic terrorists are still present in northern Mali.

February 19, 2015:  The fifth round of peace talks in Algeria continue to be deadlocked but the Tuareg rebels have agreed to an immediate ceasefire to halt the fighting that has been going on for weeks. The ceasefire halts preparations for another rebel attack on Tabankort, a much fought over town 200 kilometers north of Gao that is currently held by government soldiers and peacekeepers.

February 16, 2015: The fifth round of peace talks began in Algeria between the Mali government and an alliance of six northern rebel groups. Algeria continues to sponsor Mali peace talks in its capital. The current talks featured the personal participation of the Mali prime minister for the first time. These talks have been making slow progress because of the reluctance of the majority of Malians (black Africans in the south) to grant the degree of autonomy the lighter skinned Arab and Tuareg minority in the north want. Getting the Mali prime minister personally involved is seen as a step forward but there is still no final agreement.  

February 15, 2015: In the north (Tabankort) four peacekeepers were wounded by a roadside bomb while on patrol.

February 14, 2015: In central Mali (Mopti, 460 kilometers north of the capital) a group of gunmen attacked an army outpost and after losing at least five dead and many wounded, retreated. The defenders suffered two dead and three wounded. It was unclear who the attackers were. Attacks this far south (near the Niger River) by northern rebels are very rare. Such violence around Mopti is believed to be from local (not Libya based) Islamic terrorists.

February 7, 2015: In France t he two ethnic Algerian Islamic terrorists who attacked the publisher of Charlie Hebdo and killed twelve people. The third Islamic terrorists who attacked in in another part of Paris, killed a policewoman then went into a Jewish supermarket and killed four Jews there. The third gunman was a native of Mali and a career criminal before he was radicalized. He had worked in coordination with the two ethnic Algerian Islamic terrorists.

Inside the store an ethnic Mali employee of the store quietly led most of the 15 people still in the store into the walk-in freezer to hide them. He turned off the freezer and the lights downstairs and then slipped out of the building. The store employee was initially arrested by police as he fled but soon convinced the police what was really going on in the store and the gunmen was killed and all the people in the store rescued. The Moslem store employee was hailed as a hero and the French government soon rewarded him with French citizenship. This was a big deal in Mali.  

January 31, 2015:  In the north (outside Timbuktu) Tuareg rebels surrounded a pro-government village and fought with the local militia. One militiaman was killed and twenty civilians were kidnapped briefly before peacekeepers defused the situation.

In the far north (Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains near the Algerian border) a dozen armed Islamic terrorists were killed by French troops (who suffered no casualties). The Islamic terrorist group was spotted from the air and intercepted by ground troops who hoped to take some prisoners. Instead they got the bodies and any data the dead terrorists were carrying.

January 29, 2015: The UN will investigate what caused three demonstrators to be killed during a violent (lots of fire bombs and rock throwing) anti-UN demonstration in the northern city of Gao on the 27th. Peacekeepers opened fire to defend themselves. The demonstrators were angry at the UN because of rumors that the UN had signed a secret peace deal with the Tuareg rebels that would not benefit the people of Gao. There was no such secret deal but rumors often cause trouble in this part of the world.

January 28, 2015: In the north (Tabankort) pro-government militia and Tuareg rebels fought, leaving at least a dozen dead.

 

 

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