The ex-rebels of northern Mali said on Monday they were "in times of war" with the junta in power in Bamako, in a press release received by AFP and distributed on social networks.
In this press release entitled "communication in times of war" and authenticated by a spokesperson, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), an alliance of predominantly Tuareg groups which fought the central state before signing an agreement to peace with him in 2015, calls on "all inhabitants of Azawad to go to the field to contribute to the war effort with the aim of defending and protecting the homeland, and thus regaining control of the entire Azawadian national territory.
Azawad is a name of Tuareg origin for northern Mali, the subject of ancient independence demands.
Tensions have continued to grow for months between the CMA and the junta, raising fears of the end of the so-called Algiers peace agreement and the resumption of hostilities initiated in 2012.
Independence and Salafist insurgencies then plunged this poor and landlocked country into a deep security, political and humanitarian crisis from which it has still not emerged.
If the predominantly Tuareg groups accepted a ceasefire in 2014, the jihadists continued the fight against the central state and any foreign presence under the banner of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization. The jihadist spread has reached the center of the country, neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In the vast desert or semi-desert areas of the north, as well as the regions of Timbuktu and Gao, rivalries have intensified in recent weeks between the multitude of armed actors vying for control of the territory: jihadist groups against the Malian army, groups jihadists among themselves, Tuareg armed groups against jihadists, and Tuareg groups against the Malian army.
They gave rise to a succession of attacks, security incidents and clashes between the army and the CMA.
In its press release, which is intended to be the first press release from the "Azawadian National Army", the CMA refrains from speaking of a declaration of war, but refers to a "response in self-defense" to what it calls "the aggression" of the Malian army and the Russian paramilitary group Wagner.
The military who seized power by force in 2020 in Mali are widely believed to have secured Wagner's services, despite their denials.
The CMA accuses the army of having bombed its positions but also civilians, and Malian soldiers and Wagner's mercenaries of having committed abuses against the populations. She accuses them of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”.
She calls on civilians to stay away from the positions of the “terrorists” of the Malian army and Wagner.
This escalation coincides with a security reconfiguration in the North after the departure of the French anti-jihadist force in 2022 and the ongoing departure of the UN mission (Minusma), both pushed out by the junta.
The CMA does not intend for Minusma to hand over its camps to the Malian authorities, as it did in August in Ber, near Timbuktu. It believes that under the 2014 and 2015 arrangements, these areas should return to its control.
The junta has made the restoration of sovereignty one of its mantras, an objective which clashes with the various armed groups, which control vast expanses of territory.
The CMA claimed on Saturday evening to have shot down an army plane after a bombing on its positions in the Gao region. This would be an act not seen in years. The general staff assured for its part that the aircraft had crashed due to technical problems, but that its crew had managed to eject.
The jihadists are also exerting strong pressure. A double attack attributed to them, including one against a passenger boat on the Niger River, killed at least 64 people, including dozens of civilians on Thursday between Timbuktu and Gao, according to a government report.
Since August, Timbuktu has been subject to a blockade by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Shells fell on Timbuktu airport on Monday. The Sky Mali company announced that it would suspend its flights to and from Timbuktu and Gao this week, worsening the isolation of major cities in the North.
After the governorate of Gao this weekend, that of Timbuktu decreed a nighttime curfew renewable for 30 days until October 10 from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (local and GMT).
12/09/2023 01:30:03 - Dakar (AFP) - © 2023 AFP