Friday, February 8, 2013

Mali's Rebels Split

The rebellion of Mali's desert north was engineered by an alliance of ethnic Tuaregs, tribesmen who have lived in the Sahara for at least 2,000 years, and Islamic radicals. Once the revolt had succeeded the radicals took over, sidelining the more secular Tuaregs.

Now it seems that at least some of the Tuaregs were very unhappy about this:
French warplanes bombed Islamist militant bases and depots deep into northern Mali to disrupt their supply routes, French officials said on Monday, as secular Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said they had captured two Islamist commanders near the Algerian border.

The Tuaregs favor independence and had joined forces with better-armed Islamist fighters last year to take over much of Mali’s north. But the Tuaregs were soon edged out by their Islamist counterparts, who controlled the region’s major towns and imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. . . .

Now, with the rapid advance of the French military campaign to recapture northern Mali, the Tuaregs have vowed to help French forces fight the Islamist militants.

The main Tuareg rebel group, the M.N.L.A., announced that it had captured Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, an Islamist leader who helped impose Shariah law in the city of Timbuktu. It also said it had seized Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, described as a leader of the Islamist group Mujao, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which is a splinter from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and responsible for kidnapping at least one French hostage.
This is great news, and another sign of the Islamic radicals' great skill at alienating everyone. However, it creates a dilemma for the French. They are working side-by-side with the army of Mali, which wants to regain control over the entire country. The French want to chase the Islamic rebels out of the whole country. But many in the west have a lot of sympathy for the Tuaregs, who have been alternatively ignored or abused by the government at Bamako in Mali's south. The French don't want to fight the Tuaregs, and I bet they are hoping like mad that the Tuaregs and the government army will refrain from shooting at each other until they finish their mission against the radicals and go home.

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