Who are the real terrorists in Mali?

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الدوريات مالي تذهب الى القرى وتقوم با اعتقال المدنين الشيوخ بلغو أرذل العمر وشباب بتهمة الارهاب والكثير من هولاء تقوم مليشيات مالي بنهب ما في جيوبهم من أموال ونهب مواشيهم قبل الصاق تهمة الارهاب بيهم

الدوريات مالي تذهب الى القرى وتقوم با اعتقال المدنين الشيوخ بلغو أرذل العمر وشباب بتهمة الارهاب والكثير من هولاء تقوم مليشيات مالي بنهب ما في جيوبهم من أموال ونهب مواشيهم قبل الصاق تهمة الارهاب بيهم

When the international community pays more in ransom to terrorists than it devotes to “military training” or “development” the inevitable result is a corrupt and empowered Mali army exacting revenge on poor farmers in the North, stealing their livestock and throwing them in jail on spurious “terrorism” charges. These people will rot under torture in filthy, overcrowded prisons without food, sanitation, or health care until they die, like Mohamed Ag Hassan, forgotten and ignored by all, even the “aid” agencies.

وفاة السجين محمد اغ الحسن في السجن المركزي الكبير في العاصمة المالية بماكو , اليوم بسبب الاوضاع السيئة في السجن .. من امراض و سوء التغذية

وفاة السجين
محمد اغ الحسن في السجن المركزي الكبير في العاصمة المالية بماكو , اليوم بسبب الاوضاع السيئة في السجن .. من امراض و سوء التغذية

What becomes of their wives, children, and the rest of their families, robbed of their menfolk and livelihood, dispossessed of their homes? They become refugees..

الامم المتحدة والفرنسيه والاكواس منحازيين للسفاح المالي ويغضون النظر عن ممارساتها البشعه ضد الشعب الاعزل ويتحدثون عن تنزلات جديدة  والامم المتحده تهدد من اجل مباني ولا ترى قتل المدنيين  اخروجوهم من كيدال ولا تنحنوا لهم ولا تناقشوهم فيما لا يعنيهم اخرجوهم والله معكم

الامم المتحدة والفرنسيه والاكواس منحازيين للسفاح المالي ويغضون النظر عن ممارساتها البشعه ضد الشعب الاعزل ويتحدثون عن تنزلات جديدة
والامم المتحده تهدد من اجل مباني ولا ترى قتل المدنيين
اخروجوهم من كيدال ولا تنحنوا لهم ولا تناقشوهم فيما لا يعنيهم
اخرجوهم والله معكم

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Gallery: Azawad Interim Council President Inauguration

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Supporters of an independent Azawad gathered in Mali on Friday, 15 June 2012 for the official inauguration of an interim president, MNLA Secretary-General, Bilal Ag Acherif.

Ag Cherif reiterated [fr] the aims of the council as listed in the Azawadi Declaration of Independence and announced initiatives to establish state institutions, and to develop a charter that defines the fundamental principles of a new constitution for Azawad. He again called on the international community to recognise the 28-member Transitional Council of the State of Azawad (Conseil de Transition de l’Etat de l’Azawad, CTEA).

A concerted lobbying effort for military intervention by members of ECOWAS and the African Union is still in progress, notably with the United Nations Security Council. Old enmities between key north African countries impact discussions, and force interested parties to perform an elaborate diplomatic dance of meetings followed by visits to share developments with estranged ones. A little like friends and family trying to maintain relationships with both sides of an acrimonious divorce, it all slows and complicates the process, while creating a breeding ground for intrigue. Countries that under normal circumstances might be expected to have a say – Libya, Egypt, Yemen – are to be excused, as they have enough on their respective domestic plates. Beyond Africa, France (its Foreign Minister more specifically) is still bullish, while the US is relying on “media diplomacy” for now. I’ve not noticed any official statements from Gulf states. Perhaps Iran will weigh in with an opinion on Azawad, and then the rhetoric can really begin to fly.

One thing all sides agree on is the worrying humanitarian situation of tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people as the “lean period” approaches. There is ample space at the borders with Algeria and Mauritania to create humanitarian corridors under an agreement not to resume hostilities. I am interested to see if anyone raises this idea, and whether this possibility also exists at the borders with Niger, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. I assume this would conflict with the agenda of the rebel groups, as they now enjoy relatively unrestricted access to and from neighbouring countries, and the pro-invasion crowd aren’t canvassing for suggestions. Therefore I don’t hold out much hope for a logical solution.

#Mauritania: On The Edge

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Update of an article which originally appeared in Zenith Online in April 2012, when it seemed that all Mauritania’s sources of discontent were erupting at once. But protests are nothing new in this land where a coup has been the answer to every political ill, whether real or imagined, for decades.

Operating in a Constitutional Vacuum

General Aziz

The coup in which the Aziz regime seized power in 2008 created a wave of protest, which continued despite General Aziz switching to civilian garb and claiming a democratic victory in the 2009 presidential election. After a year in which they failed to complete national registration, failed to maintain dialogue with the opposition, and postponed legislative, parliamentary and municipal elections indefinitely, the Aziz government is no longer teetering on the brink of legitimacy: it fell off that precipice back in November 2011 when the mandate of the government expired. The only legally elected official in Mauritania is now the president, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz. Many of those who accused the junta of merely paying lip-service to democracy in order to add a veneer of respectability and secure regional and international acceptance (and funding) are now feeling fully vindicated.

Anti-government protests which resurfaced last year gradually increased since February 2012 to become a daily occurrence in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and other towns further afield. Incidents of strikes have also increased, with actions by fishermen, mining workers, teachers, college professors and students. Even a group of administrators for the national registration programme threatened a strike over pay and conditions. Throughout all this, the junta continues to impose constitutional and legislative changes, and to enter into financial and trade agreements with foreign investors, lenders, and trade partners.

Neighbourhood Watch

Mauritania map

Geographically, Mauritania is a foreign invention. The uncomfortably angular shape of Mauritania’s north eastern borders were decided long ago by colonial powers in London and Paris. There are few links with London now, although last October, William Hague did become the first the British Foreign Secretary to visit. But deep ties with France persist, and many are watching to see how Hollande’s victory in the French presidential election will impact the country. The neighbours who inhabit the other side of those awkward borders are also subject to the vagaries of Mauritania’s fickle nature. Western Sahara lost it’s southern region to Morocco when Mauritania decided to withdraw from occupation after being outclassed by the POLISARIO rebel force in 1979. This land that only time remembers, and which the world tries to ignore, now presses in awkward silence against the north-western border, a permanent reminder of Mauritania’s humiliating defeat, tribal hegemony and political naivety.

During the relatively brief 1989 conflict with Senegal, tens of thousands were forcibly expelled or repatriated between the two countries. The enmity was eventually resolved, but there is no great bond between them, as the April2012 crackdown on Senegalese workers and residents in Nouadhibou demonstrates. While Mauritania worked with the UN HCR to repatriate some of the Senegal refugees, a process which was declared complete only in March 2012, those in Mali were never even counted. In a peculiarly schizophrenic episode, tens of thousands of refugees displaced by the unrest in Mali are now being sheltered in Mauritania. In Mali’s case, there is an almost total lack of respect for its sovereignty: Mauritania maintains close associations with the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) and conducts frequent military sorties supposedly targeting AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) – even if those targets turn out to be civilians. With the introduction in May 2012 of a new residency tax for all foreign nationals of 30,000 MRO per person, including children, Mauritania now appears to be in breach of two clauses of its 1963 accord with Mali, which prohibits both taxation on citizens and uninvited military presence.

As a member of the Arab League, Mauritania has always had close relations with the Gulf States, although we are encouraged by unreliable media sources to consider some, for example Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, as being closer than others. Once deeply indebted to Muammar Gaddafi’s patronage, Mauritania was an unexpected choice as chair of the African Union’s special committee on Libya during the 2011 uprising. It was also one of the last of the Arab states to officially recognize the National Transitional Council, and entertained visitors from both sides during last year’s conflict.  This year finds Mauritania playing host to former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, after an improbable arrest (which France claimed to have a hand with) and showing no signs of releasing him from “detention” any time soon.

Islamic in Moderation

One of only four Islamic Republics in the world, Mauritania might be expected to enjoy close relations with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but this is not the case. Relations with Iran did seem warm last September, when they received Ahmadinejad and his entourage on the way to and from the UN General Assembly in New York, then seemed to have cooled by March, when Mauritania voted in favour of extending the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur’s mandate. But by early April, Iran had “repatriated” former Al Qaeda strategist Mahfouz Ould al Walid aka Abu Hafs al Mauritani, who arrived to join his family, already returned from Iran. For company, they have one of Osama bin Laden’s former wives and her children, while Mali is fast becoming the Al Qaeda time-share capital of Africa.

Mauritania is reportedly keeping al Walid in detention and there are unconfirmed reports that he has refused visits and food in protest at being pressured to meet with delegations from “foreign powers”. Such reports have all the hallmarks of a smokescreen intended to dampen observers’ inclinations to link his presence in Mauritania with reports of increasing AQIM activity in the Sahel, or indeed with the recent spate of allegedly successful US drone attacks on Al Qaeda leadership figures. By all accounts, Mauritania is firmly against terrorism, and its preferred brand of moderate Islam is jihad-free. In fact the government has carved out a cosy niche as a player in the global war on terror, with its lucrative funding opportunities. This might get a boost due to the level of hysteria about Mali. For development funding, the EU remains an important source of funds and is joined by Japan, Spain, China and others. All of these donors surely know that their funds are being sieved through a mesh of corruption but they seem unperturbed.

Not Just Desert

Harsh Desert Conditions

Despite it’s massive land area of over 1 million km2, the majority of Mauritania’s population – which is roughly the same as that of Berlin – is concentrated in the capital Nouakchott, and the port of Nouadhibou. These cities lie on the West coast where the Sahara desert meets Mauritania’s vast fishing grounds in the Atlantic ocean. While the sea provides a wealth of fish, not much reaches land: most of it is destined for export after processing in huge factory ships. The European Union recently ordered its fleet to cease fishing in the waters, as the quota has been reached and their agreement expires in July 2012. Meanwhile, China has moved in as another pelagic fishing partner in a deal that was denounced as unfavourable and suspect.

The vast desert, though inhospitable, is also rich in natural resources such as iron, copper, gold and gypsum. One of the major criticisms levelled at the government concerns mining rights sold to foreign companies, such as Canada’s Kinross, on terms which fail to provide a reasonable return. Mining workers appear to be trapped in a cycle of industrial action and broken or half-kept promises, although an unprecedented and costly 5-day strike by 1500 Kinross workers in early June appears to have improved their situation.

Decades of desertification and increasing frequency of severe drought have pushed people from a life of humble self-sufficiency as smallholders in rural villages to the cities. It’s a race for survival, with the edge of Africa as the finishing line. But there are few opportunities for skilled workers or university graduates in the cities, fewer still for semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers with only a rudimentary education. The towns were not built to cope with such dramatic increase: essential support infrastructure is lacking, and plans to create or improve it are failing to keep pace. This situation is the basis for a raft of social issues – unemployment, poverty, homelessness, healthcare, education, social welfare – a constant source of domestic tension. Another source of social friction is racial discrimination, inescapable in a country with such a mixture of “white” and “black” Moors as well as black Africans and all possible variants. Racial division is a “hot button” and the regime is highly skilled at applying pressure whenever it suits.

Sowing Division, Reaping Chaos

In April 2011, when the new population census and biometric registration programme was launched, there was an outcry over allegations of racial prejudice against citizens of black African heredity.  This year, it was the turn of slavery to grab headlines.  Recent media focus on slavery actually garnered little attention inside the country until a Saudi cleric suggested Muslims could seek atonement by purchasing the freedom of slaves, who he said  were readily-available in Mauritania. This was followed by a comment from the cleric Cheikh Dedew, who is also the patron of the Islamist party, Tewassoul. Dedew made a statement along the lines of “slavery does not exist in Mauritania”. In turn, this provoked Biram Ould Abeid, president of anti-slavery group “IRA” to hold his own Friday prayer meeting on 27 April, and afterwards burn several volumes by Islamic scholars which he said condone slavery through Islam.

Aziz goes Trad

The response was immediate and significant, some might even say orchestrated. Angry protesters marched to the Presidential palace the next day, and president Aziz came out to meet them in full traditional dress instead of the usual couture suit, promising to defend Islam. Biram Ould Abeid and 9 of his associates were arrested that evening. Protests against Biram’s act continued for a time, with demands ranging from an apology to expulsion, and even execution for apostasy. Mauritania does include some precepts of Islamic “Sharia” law, but has not actually executed anyone for many years. Whether knowingly or not, Biram Ould Abeid’s attempt to demonstrate a link between Islam and slavery provided a golden opportunity for Aziz to stifle the slavery debate and restore his flagging reputation by championing the one thing all people in Mauritania have in common: Islam.

As the indignation began to wane, regular Saturday protests by supporters of Biram and his fellow-prisoners began, and were immediately and repeatedly repressed by police with customary violence. Biram’s wife Leyla was attacked several times, and on one occasion shot in the face with a tear gas grenade. On 9 June 2012, a young man – who was not part of the protest, but a shopkeeper on one of the roads where police were clashing with the unarmed protesters – died from tear gas suffocation. As has been the case with previous incidents, officials denied any wrongdoing and claimed the youth died from a pre-existing medical complaint. Biram has in fact published an apology but he and six others, including a journalist, remain in custody.

Now Mauritania appears to be entering a new phase in its ever-evolving struggle. Last week there was a visit from the UN representative for West Africa, fresh from talks with ECOWAS* about the situation in Mali. He met with leaders of the the political opposition coalition for about half an hour before meeting with Aziz. Former transitional leader Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, a cousin of Aziz, provided some distraction by allowing himself to be quoted making outlandish and insulting comments about the 1989 atrocities. This got the abolitionists and anti-racists nicely worked up, while Massoud Ould Belkhair, leader of the more compliant opposition, worked on COD leaders by making overtures about dialogue. For the hat-trick, the failed group which was created last year to call for a national unity government was brought out of cold storage.

Former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani

In the background, the illegal Aziz government pressed on with its agenda. Unqualified diplomats have been dispatched to various international locations. Unqualified candidates have been assigned to a new Electoral Commission, and the former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani was removed from his post and replaced by a very junior and inexperienced jurist. Legislative elections are still not scheduled, but the country’s jurists are forming a union of sorts, just to keep themselves occupied. Next for the arbitrary chop could be the Chief of the Bar Association, Ould Boubehna, who is talking far too much sense these days, echoing constitutional law expert Lo Gormo’s 3 March pronouncement on the government’s  lack of legitimacy.

Eventually, all these issues must be resolved. It is not possible to continue like this indefinitely. The lack of comment or concern over this constitutional imbroglio from international partners, and their willingness to enter into legal agreements, provide aid, and accept and extend invitations to a government which has remained in power through a “coup by default” is at best puzzling and at worst hypocritical.

*Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS.

Black Tuesday in #Mali – Ansar Dine Attack Tuareg Women in Public

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Tin Hinan is the name given by the Tuareg to a 4th-century woman of prestige whose monumental tomb is located in the Sahara at Abalessa in the Ahaggar or Hoggar region of Algeria. The name means literally “she of the tents”, but may be metaphorically translated as “mother of the tribe” (or “of us all”) or even “queen of the camp” (the “camp” maybe referring to the group of tombs which surround hers). She is sometimes referred to as “Queen of the Hoggar”, and by the Tuareg as tamenoukalt which also means queen. [afrikanwomen tumblog]

Now they’ve torn it. No man, not even the allegedly brutal soldiers of the Malian army (you remember, the ones 300,000 refugees reportedly fled from in terror?) has apparently raised his hand against a woman in public for sixteen hundred years. For it was in the 4th century that Queen Tin Hinan ruled the tents of this land, and no violence against women is tolerated, that’s how the story goes. The old gal will be spinning in her tomb, unless that too has already been desecrated by Ansar Dine militants.

Not once, but twice, the Ansar Dine thugs attacked a protest in the centre of Kidal staged by women who refuse to be cowed by their rules. The first time, the shocked observer reported, was in broad daylight. Unspeakable and unconscionable barbarity! Well done ladies for coming out again in the evening to show those opportunistic interlopers what’s what. As for Iyad ag Ghali, he already has a bad rap for being a corrupt diplomat who got booted out of Saudi because of his passion for whiskey. Well, the hard-drinking hypocrite’s really up against it now. Pressuring women to submit to rules about dress codes, and trying to bar them from employment was the cause of the protests, but publicly shaming and disrespecting women is going too far. Kidal isn’t Cairo!

Word now is that Ansar Dine has outstayed their welcome and been advised to pack up their unwelcome ideology and get out of Kidal.

I refuse to conceal my glee at this news. Forget ECOWAS, the African Union or NATO; the prospect of bataillions of angry Azawad women kicking disrespectful militant butt from .. oh wait, it can’t be “from here to Timbuktu“. Well, from Gao, Kidal and Timbuctu back to the Tunisian camps or wherever they hatched their stupid plan to hijack the rebellion while licking their wounds after Libya will have to be far enough for now. Please, oh please let this be a true story. It was reported on Sahara Medias website [ar], a generally reliable source. 😉

Ansar Dine, MNLA alliance collapses

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Pic: Getty images

Just 48 hours after Tuareg rebels and hard-line Islamists declared a breakaway state in northern Mali, the deal fell apart Monday (May 28th) over ideological differences, AFP reported.

Sources said on Tuesday that the separatist MNLA wants a moderate form of sharia, while Ansar Dine would like to impose a more hardline version, using punishments such as the amputation of hands and heads for certain crimes, the sources said.

The West African group ECOWAS said it rejected the idea of a separate Islamic state in northern Mali, and the new French president urged African leaders to ask the U.N. Security Council to create a framework for restoring stability to the region.

“We want sharia similar to that in Mauritania or even Egypt. This point must be clarified,” Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, an MNLA official in the northern city of Gao, told Reuters by telephone.

He said Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghali was on his way to Gao for talks with MNLA leaders to salvage the pact, which was signed by representatives of the two groups last week.

A second MNLA source confirmed that a disagreement had emerged, centred on what form of sharia to impose. “The strict application of sharia, for example by cutting off hands, we don’t agree with,” the second source said.

An Ansar Dine official was not available, but the group has said it wants to impose a strict version of sharia in Mali and would be willing to cut off hands and heads if the Koran required it.

Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.

A regionally backed transitional government has been set up in Bamako to organise new presidential elections within a year, though supporters of the ruling military junta oppose the plan.

The regional bloc ECOWAS said on Tuesday it rejected the rebels’ attempt to create an Islamic state in northern Mali.

“ECOWAS strongly condemns this opportunistic move, which will only worsen the plight of the populations already suffering atrocities and deprivation in the occupied Malian territory, and further threaten regional peace and security,” it said.

French President Francois Hollande urged African leaders to appeal to the United Nations Security Council to tackle the worsening crisis in Mali.

“What we want is that these institutions (African Union, ECOWAS) go to the U.N. Security Council so that it finds a framework that allows stability to be restored in Mali and the wider Sahel,” Hollande said after meeting Benin’s president, Yayi Boni, who currently heads the African Union.

Asked whether France, the former colonial ruler, would be ready to help restore stability in Mali through military intervention, Hollande said Paris would abide by Security Council resolutions and would be ready to help if asked to.

He said he had consulted Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who heads ECOWAS, on Tuesday morning and told him he wanted the regional institutions to take the issue to the Security Council “as soon as possible.”

“We don’t want to interfere but we are aware of our responsibilities,” Hollande said, adding that six French nationals were still being held in the Sahel by al Qaeda’s north African wing.