Magharebia (Washington DC)

29 November 2012

Mali: Ansar Al-Din Plays Double Game

Photo: HRW
Map of Mali

Nouakchott — Ansar al-Din preserves its alliance with jihadists, despite earlier pledges to engage in peaceful talks.

Ansar al-Din has yet to deliver on its promise to reject extremism and terrorism, fight trans-border organised crime and engage in a dialogue with all parties to the Mali crisis, activists from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) told Magharebia.

Ansar al-Din sent military reinforcements to Gao to back up MUJAO in its confrontation with the MNLA, al-Akhbar reported on November 21st.

Ansar al-Din justified this decision by saying that MNLA had also reinforced its forces near Menaka, the newspaper added.

But the troop movement supporting MUAJO went against a November 6th vow by Ansar al-Din taken during talks in Ouagadougou with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

At the time, Ansar al-Din had pledged 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".

"Ansar al-Din remains committed to its old approach and its absolute support for jihadist groups in their war on the MNLA," Edoum Ag el-Weli and al-Hasan Ag Mohamed el-Khair, both MNLA activists in Gao, told Magharebia.

Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly sent an envoy November 24th to the MNLA camp in Leyra near the Mauritanian border. "Ansar al-Din invites all MNLA fighters to lay down their arms and join its ranks; otherwise they will be fought and the group will establish its control all over Azawad," the emissary announced.

"However, the MNLA has categorically rejected Iyad Ag Ghaly's request and considers it to be an express alliance with the terrorist groups that fight against the movement," Ag Mohamed el-Khair stated.

"MNLA fighters have expressed their determination to fight against all terrorists," he added.

Right after sending the envoy, Ansar al-Din immediately deployed armed forces made up of members from al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to force MNLA elements in Leyra to join them, Ag el-Weli noted.

Ansar al-Din took control of Leyra that same evening, following negotiation with the MNLA, AFP reported.

"Ansar al-Din's position in support of the terrorist groups became very clear when we managed to defeat MUJAO last week," Attay Ag Mohamed, in charge of MNLA communication, said.

"They now want to support these groups so as to exact revenge for their fallen victims," he added. "This position completely contradicts what the group said earlier this month about putting an end to ties with the terrorists."

Touareg analyst Abdul Hamid al-Ansari attributed the Ansar al-Din double game to the nature of negotiations. "The MNLA seeks to restore its force on the ground to be the most effective party in talks with ECOWAS. Meanwhile Ansar al-Din fears that this would affect its position in the on-going negotiations, given that ECOWAS considers it to be the dominant force," he said.

"More importantly, each group seeks to guarantee domination over the administration of Azawad affairs in case the world realises that the final solution requires granting Azawad autonomy or federal rule," he added.

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