Calgary Herald

Tuaregs declare independen­ce in Mali

- SERGE DANIEL AND COUMBA SYLLA

Tuareg rebels in the north of Mali declared independen­ce Friday, a move rejected by the internatio­nal community and the Islamist insurgents they fought beside, as fears grew of a humanitari­an crisis.

The United States, Africa and Europe dismissed the declaratio­n of independen­ce of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

The declaratio­n, long a goal of Tuaregs, is a bid to formalize the situation on the ground, where the country had been split in two by their uprising.

A democratic success since its last coup 21 years ago, Mali is now roughly divided into a Tuareg rebelcontr­olled north and junta-controlled south. Complicati­ng the picture, a radical Islamist group, Ansar Dine, has exploited the chaos to swoop in and install Islamic law in parts of the north.

Although for a while the Islamists fought in concert with the MNLA, they have given short shrift to their independen­ce plans.

“Our war is a holy war,” Ansar Dine military chief Omar Hamaha said.

“It’s a legal war in the name of Islam. We are against rebellions. We are against independen­ce. We are against revolution­s not in the name of Islam.”

Hamaha was speaking in a video filmed on Tuesday and Wednesday after the Islamists’ takeover of the fabled city of Timbuktu.

It showed one group of rebels loitering outside a military camp, with their black flag draped over the name of the barracks above the entrance.

In other scenes in the video, small groups of women walked along the city’s streets. Some wore full-face veils but most simply covered their hair with scarves.

Hamaha said they had “more than 120 prisoners,” including thieves.

“We have tied them up and taken their weapons. We beat them well and it’s likely we will slit their throats,” he added in unedited footage. It was not clear if this threat was directed at all prisoners.

In the city of Gao, witnesses said Ansar Dine had kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats, reports confirmed by the Algerian foreign ministry.

Although the Islamists appeared to have the upper hand, the separatist MNLA on Friday declared the independen­ce of their desert homeland, which they call Azawad, and where several rebellions have played out in past decades.

This latest one was fuelled by a flood of weapons — and returning Tuareg fighters — from Libya after Moammar Gadhafi’s downfall.

The African Union dismissed the declaratio­n as “null and of no value whatsoever,” while the European Union and United States both called for respect of Mali’s “territoria­l integrity.”

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