Azawadi movements start second round of negotiations with Mali, seek "specific statute"

Algerian-facilitated talks bring together Malian government, six Azawadi groups · Politico-military organizations of Azawad sign agreement to put an end to mutual hostilities · Mali proposes decentralization without autonomous institutions

Azawad politico-military groups and the government of Mali launched this week in Algiers the second round of negotiations under the auspices of Algeria in order to find a solution to the conflict in northern Mali's territory. Three Azawadi groups (mostly Tuareg MNLA and HCUA, and mostly Arab MAA) yesterday addressed the participants in the second phase of the negotiation process. The groups demanded an agreement that allows "the people of Azawad to take charge of its own destiny through a specific statute."

The Azawadi groups and the Malian government hold rather different views on what features and content should define that "specific statute." MNLA, HCUA and MAA renounced independence for Azawad but instead they want autonomy for northern Mali's three provinces (Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal). Mali, however, says it is willing to accept some provincial decentralization throughout the country, but it is reluctant to create one or more self-governing assemblies and governments in Azawad.

In addition to the MNLA-HCUA-MAA coordination and Mali, the negotiations also involve other politico-military groups of Azawad which analysts regard to be closer to the Malian government. These groups are the predominantly Tuareg CPA (which is led by MNLA dissident Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh), mostly Peul and Songhai CMFPR, and an MAA splinter group. Algerian newspaper El Watanwrites that Ag Mohamed Assaleh has proposed Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan as a model for Azawadi autonomy.

In recent months, some of these groups have been clashing in armed incidents. Last week in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), the MNLA-HCUA-MAA and the CPA-CMFPR-dissident MAA coordinations signed an agreement with a view to ending hostilities between their member groups. Similarly, both coordinations recognized "the legitimacy of the struggle" of Azawad "for over 50 years" to achieve "a specific statute."

Each of these groups reflects political, ideological, ethnic or clanic divisions within Azawad, as well as links with Mali, its army or neighboring states. Divides between the groups -and the consequent danger of anarchy- are one of the arguments put forward by Malians opposed to autonomy for Azawad.

(Image: MNLA guerrillas / picture by Magharebia.)

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