Azawad's fragile accord risks collapse from the outset

Mali, loyalist militias sign Algerian-sponsored deal in Bamako · Azawadi pro-autonomy groups provisionally sign deal, insist more talks needed before final agreement · Violent clashes continue on the ground · Jihadist groups not participating in negotiations

A peace deal that is today being signed by the government of Mali and a group of loyalist militias (the Platform) to put an end to the Azawadi conflict risks collapse from the very beginning. The main coalition briting together Azawadi political-military groups (the Coordination of Movements of Azawad, CMA, which includes the secular, mainly Tuareg MNLA) is not signing the deal in Malian capital Bamako. Jihadist groups that continue to operate in Azawad have not even taken part in peace negotiations. And on the ground, renewed infighting shows how fragile is the current ceasefire.

The Algerian-sponsored deal recognizes Azawad as "a human, sociocultural, symbolic reality." Furthermore, it foresees the establishment of regional assemblies throughout Mali -not only in Azawad- with largely undefined powers. The proposal is far away from demands put forward by the CMA groups, which want autonomy for Azawad or the conversion of Mali into a federal republic.

The CMA yesterday was in Algiers to provisionally sign the deal ("parapher", in French). On behalf of the CMA, MNLA Secretary-General Bilal Ag Acherif yesterday issued a communiqué in which he argues that a provisional signature is a "legally different act" than a final signature ("signature", in French). According to Ag Acherif, a final signature will not be considered by the CMA if the demands "of the people of Azawad" are not taken into account.

MNLA leaders are under pressure from two opposite directions. On the one hand, international mediators want the CMA to sign the peace agreement and put an end to the rebellion, which was launched in 2012. On the other, MNLA rank and file and some of their Tuareg civilian supporters are staunchly opposed to the peace deal, arguing it will not deliver enough autonomy for Azwad. An MNLA commander yesterday warned that the CMA has "no legitimacy" to sign the agreement today.

Violent clashes on the ground

The Malian government says it has no intention to engage in further talks to grant some degree of self-government to Azawad. On the ground, CMA forces have been clashing for weeks to Platform militias -most especially to Tuareg loyalist group GATIA- seeking control over several towns and villages, among which Menaka, close to the Nigerien border.

This is only one among several problems for peace to hold in the region. Several jihadist groups who continue to operate in Azawad and in the wider Sahara-Sahel region have not been involved in the peace talks. Among them, the Al-Mourabitoun group left three people dead in an April suicide attack in the Azawadi town of Ansongo. Al-Mourabitoun was born in 2013 out of the merger of two jihadist groups: Al-Mulaththamun and MUJWA, the latter being one of the groups that chased the MNLA out of Timbuktu and Gao in June 2012 during the jihadist takeover of Azawad.

Another player left out of the negotiations is Iyad Ag Ghaly, an Azawadi Tuareg leader who in 2011 created its own islamist militia, Ansar Dine. Ag Ghaly has called the whole Malian population to rise up against the government and the French troops in Mali, with the stated goal of establishing a new islamic state there. Ag Ghaly-linked preachers are suspected to have established, earlier in 2015, a new islamist group among Mali's Peul population immediately south to Azawad, the Macina Liberation Movement. Its inception further complicates the conflict.

(Image: Azawadi demonstration in Kidal / picture from @arabthomness account.)

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