8 November 2012

Mali: Ansar Al-Din New Position Raises Questions

Photo: Magharebia
Some Touareg rebels.

Nouakchott — Islamist group Ansar al-Din on Tuesday (November 6th) ended peace talks in Ouagadougou with a promise to reject extremism and terrorism, fight trans-border organised crime and engage in a dialogue with all parties to the Mali crisis.

A delegation from the group met in the Burkinabe capital with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediator for the Mali crisis, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, before announcing a surprising array of promises.

Ansar al-Din vowed to find a "negotiated constructive solution for the Malian crisis with all national forces that represent the interim authorities in Mali, and with all other Malian armed groups", the group said in a statement read by delegation member Mohamed Aharid.

"Based on that, we announce a stop of all acts of violence to guarantee the free movement of persons and properties and facilitate the arrival of humanitarian aid at areas under our control," the group said.

Ansar al-Din "rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism and is committed to fighting cross-border organised crime", the statement concluded.

Fellow Touareg separatists, however, questioned the sincerity of the statement.

"Ansar al-Din's statement was not convincing to us because it is very ambiguous, and didn't identify the terrorists and extremists who they are going to fight," said Nina Walet Ntalou, a leader of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and a minister in Azawad's unrecognised government, on November 7th.

"If they are serious about this new position, I think they have to continue dialogue so that their intentions become clear to the entire world," the Touareg leader told Magharebia.

The MNLA has voiced its willingness to negotiate with Ansar al-Din on condition that the Islamists "relinquish the application of sharia and their alliance with al-Qaeda", she added.

But those specifics are missing from the Ansar al-Din declaration, Touareg analyst Abdelhamid al-Ansari noted.

"Some of the points are still ambiguous," he said. The statement "didn't show whether the group would stop the application of Sharia against population and would demand the terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda and MUJAO leave Azawad", al-Ansari said.

Ansar al-Din has also put itself in an "embarrassing situation, in the middle between the terrorists and international community", he said. "The group pleased neither al-Qaeda nor the international community, which wouldn't settle for this ambiguous statement. Therefore, I think that its next steps will make its leaders decide about making a clear position either with or against that," al-Ansari said.

Mohamed Mouloud Ramadhan, the spokesperson for the National Front for the Liberation of Azawad (FNLA) also expressed questions about the Ansar al-Din declaration.

"As a local Arab movement combating terrorism and opposed to Ansar al-Din's practices, we welcome this declaration," he said. "However, we wonder about the limits of Ansar al-Din's abandonment of terrorism. Does this put an end to its relations with al-Qaeda and MUJAO? And does it mean leaving local populations alone?"

"I believe that this involves too much deliberate ambiguity so that they may avoid talking about the other details," he added. "Therefore, I consider this step to be incomplete and lacking in necessary courage."

"Anyway, we in the FNLA are still sticking to our position which rejects co-operation with Ansar al-Din unless it fully renounces its acts of violence," the FNLA spokesman added.

His group also wants to be involved in dialogue as an effective party in the region, "because the predominantly Arab Timbuktu population shouldn't be marginalised", he added.

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