Negotiations are underway in Mali, and hopefully hostilities can be averted for as long as possible. Gao is not happy about the occupation by MUJAO, hinting that the hardline groups may not be as powerful as the media portrayed them to be:
MUJAO pushed out the National Movement for Independence and Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a grouping of Tuareg separatist rebels, in late June. Since then, some local youths in Gao have reportedly joined the MUJAO cause as paid mercenaries, but most residents are in stiff opposition to the rigid Sharia law the group has imposed. On 5 August, people in Gao protested in the streets at the planned amputation of the hand of an alleged thief.
It is interesting that ECOWAS and others are calling for Ansar Dine to move away from MUJAO and the other hardline groups. Previously the media had portrayed Ansar Dine as the big bad Islamist in town, though there seem to be more subtleties worth pointing out in this conflict.
The International Crisis Group has criticized the ECOWAS negotiation tactics as “aggravating existing fault lines in Malian society.”
The now weakened MNLA has indicated that it is open to negotiations with the interim government in Bamako, which took over from the military junta, and has toned down its separatist demands.
It’s my hope (and I’m sure the hope of the ICG) that the MNLA can come to some agreement with Bamako before foreign intervention occurs. Otherwise, all Tuareg will be in the crosshairs of peacekeepers.
The Libyan invasion by NATO forces last year resulted in a stable government for Libya, but has destabilized Mali in a time of critical environmental crisis. Rising temperatures and drought have caused mass migrations of Malians and terrible hunger for everyone in the country. Ban Ki Moon has called for sanctions against groups he deems extremist, and while I’m sure he thinks that this would be a positive development in Mali’s situation, I don’t see how that helps the hungry, many of whom are supported by the same insurgents that would be sanctioned.
This seems to be a period of calm for Mali, and it needs to last if the people of Mali are to get any respite from the environmental catastrophe already present in this war torn country.