It has taken longer than expected, but finally the Malian government has accepted the deal on Kidal proposed by Burkina Faso and signed last week by two main Azawadi organizations, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). According to the deal, the Malian army will be redeployed in the Kidal region (now in the hands of MNLA) in the coming weeks. The agreement also provides for the holding of the Malian presidential election of July 28th also in the territory of Kidal.
The MNLA is a mainly Tuareg militia that last year conquered the north of Mali and declared its independence under the name of "Azawad". After they lost control of the territory to several Islamist groups, the French army decided to intervene in the conflict in order to restore control of Mali over Azawad. Subsequently, Islamist guerrillas lost almost all the territory they previously held, and the MNLA managed to again secure control of their stronghold Kidal. Two weeks ago, the Malian army threatened to retake Kidal by force. MNLA is now only asking for an autonomous Azawad within Mali.
According to the Bamako-MNLA-HCUA deal, Malian soldiers will enter Kidal under some conditions. The first one is the fact that the Malian men will be deployed together ("in close co-operation") with a UN peacekeeping force. The Tuareg militia hopes that this will avoid abuses by Malian soldiers against local Tuaregs. The second one is the fact that MNLA men will be garrisoned in the region while keeping their weapons. The agreement says that MNLA disarmament will only be discussed after July election. The Tuareg rebels hope that a broader discussion on the future status of Azawad will then take place.
It is now to be seen if the Malian president to be elected in July will be able to hold a truly inclusive negotiation in order to bring peace and some sort of self-government to Azawad. Bamako is strongly reluctant to accept any kind of autonomy for any Malian territory, and it also opposes the very concept of "Azawad". Still, Bamako has at least accepted to hold "peace talks" with MNLA, HCUA and "northern communities" in order to agree on the "statute of the region of the north".
Tuareg-based movements have been fighting against the Malian army since the independence of the former French colony in 1960.
(Image: MNLA fighters and an Azawadi flag.)