29 November 2013

Mali: Separatists End Ceasefire Following Clashes With Army

Photo: Photo: Brahima Ouedraogo/IRIN
A rebel commander in Gao.

A rebel separatist group in Mali has declared an end to a five-month ceasefire pact with the government following clashes in the city of Kidal. It follows elections marking a transition to democracy after a 2012 coup.

The MLNA, or National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, which is what the group calls the region they claim, said one person was killed and five others injured on Thursday when Tuareg demonstrators clashed with Mali government troops at an airport while trying to prevent Mali's Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly from visiting Kidal. However, the Malian government offered a different explanation, saying its troops fired warning shots after they had been shot at and hit with stones.

"What happened (on Thursday) is a declaration of war. We will deliver this war," said Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice-president of the MNLA. "Wherever we find the Malian army we will launch the assault against them. It will be automatic. The warnings are over," Maiga said.

Setback to democracy

A ceasefire agreement between the Tuareg rebels and Mali's government was signed in June, paving the way for elections to be held across the country.

The breaking of the ceasefire comes as Malians prepare for a second round of voting in parliamentary elections, after an initial voting round on November 24 failed to reveal majority winners in most constituencies.

Turnout in the poll was low at 38.4 percent and Malians are due to vote again on December 15. About half of the country's eligible voters participated in a runoff presidential election in July, which was won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The elections were supposed to signal a fresh start for the west African nation, which was plunged into chaos last year when a secessionist Tuareg uprising in the north of the country led to a military coup in March 2012 and the overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

The Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France in the chaos that followed, only to be ousted by al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups. They, in turn, were driven out by a French-led ground and air offensive in January 2013.

But, as Friday's breaking of the ceasefire pact shows, tensions in Mali remain high.

(Reuters, AFP)

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