On Wednesday, April 5, in the early afternoon, a Soukhoi Su-25 of the Malian air force appeared in the sky of Kidal, the “capital” of the ex-rebels of the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), in northern Mali. A low-level flight by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) perceived as an intimidation maneuver. The aircraft did not carry out any strikes but its rotations above the city provoked return fire from the fighters on the ground. Similar overflights were also observed at Ber, Anefis and Amassine, resulting in no losses.

Politically, these operations are part of a context of deteriorating relations between the putschist officers who hold power in Bamako and the former rebel movements, mainly Tuareg and Arab, who for more than ten years have in fact controlled the north of Mali. . On Wednesday, the CMA denounced a “patent violation of the ceasefire of May 23, 2014” and a “serious provocation carried out under the eyes of the international community, guarantor of the security arrangements and the peace agreement”.

The Malian government has remained silent. The army spokesman, Colonel Souleymane Dembélé, had denied, two days before the events, any desire to take back by arms the lost territories in the north of the country. “Malicious spirits are saying that the army is carrying out an operation towards Kidal. We are not in this dynamic, the authorities remain attached to the peace agreement. The Malian army is not in the process of rearming to reconquer Kidal “, then assured the head of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of the Armies.

“They wanted to intimidate us”

Was this a bluff? It is too early to tell, although the date of the flyby does not appear to have been chosen at random. The operation occurred on the eve of the celebrations for the proclamation of the independence of Azawad. Announced unilaterally on April 6, 2012 as Mali suffered an accelerated collapse – marked by a coup and the loss of all its positions above Mopti – this independence has never achieved any international recognition, but remains a objective for some of the ex-rebels and the populations of northern Mali, as much as a stain on the national pride of the leaders in place in Bamako.

“They wanted to intimidate us, but it had no effect,” says a CMA executive while sending photos of the festivities, which were finally held Thursday in Kidal, to better support his point. “They want us to understand that they have weapons. By violating the ceasefire, their objective is to relaunch hostilities and push us out of the Algiers [peace and reconciliation] agreement, ”analyzes the same interlocutor.

Signed in 2015, a year after an attempt to reconquer Kidal by the Malian army which turned into a fiasco, this agreement provides in particular for greater autonomy for the different regions of Mali and a recomposition of the army in which must be integrated former rebels. Not fully satisfying any of the parties, it has since remained largely unapplied for lack of political will, particularly in Bamako, but the text offers a settlement framework to which most of Mali’s foreign partners remain attached.

“Concerned” by the rise in tensions, the United Nations mission in Mali (Minusma) on Wednesday called on each party to “the greatest restraint”. A meeting of international mediation, of which Algeria is the leader, was held the next day in the Malian capital with a view to “proposing an initiative which will put everyone back around the table”, relates the one of the attendees. “We are going to give them a perch to get out of this conflicting logic without knowing if they will seize it. The two parties have not spoken to each other since October 2022. The flight over Kidal feeds the war narrative on both sides. This is very worrying,” the source continues.

Staging an army ready to reconquer

Since the May 2021 coup that allowed Colonel Assimi Goïta to take over the presidency of the country, Mali has embarked on a policy of arms purchases and reoriented its partnerships. Attack or transport helicopters, fighter or reconnaissance planes delivered by Russia, Turkish Bayraktar TB2 surveillance and combat drones… The deliveries give the ruling junta the opportunity to stage an army that would have regained its force and would be ready to reconquer. The association on the ground, started at the end of 2021 according to Western intelligence services, with the mercenaries of the Russian private military company Wagner is, on the other hand, denied by the Malian transition authorities.

Alghabass Ag Intalla, the president of the CMA, had alerted the international mediators rushed to Kidal in early February: “It is the agreement that makes us Malians. Without this agreement we are Azawadians”, he assured a month after the movements he represents withdrew from the talks for the application of the peace agreement, insisting in passing on “those soldiers who took power in Bamako and from which we do not receive orders”.

Some three weeks later, the response from the Malian minister for reconciliation appeared in the form of a letter, supposed to remain confidential, sent to the Algerian mediation. Colonel Ismaël Wagué, one of the pillars of the junta, denounced incessant violations of the peace agreement by the signatory groups, accusing in particular the CMA of “increasingly manifest collusion with terrorist groups”, while the ex-rebels and jihadists of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, together tried to contain the progression of the followers of the Islamic State organization in north-eastern Mali. The Minister also warned that “the government, while remaining committed to the intelligent implementation of the agreement, will automatically reject any accusation that would hold it responsible for the possible consequences of its violation. »