Making sense of Mali’s armed groups

Al Jazeera: French planes have bombed targets in Mali in what they consider a fight against al-Qaeda-linked fighters. But the region is a cauldron of instability with a diverse blend of religious fighters, ethnic militas and secularists.

After spending weeks reporting from the country’s restive north, Al Jazeera’s May Ying Welsh reviews some of the different groups and what they want.

MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad)

The secular separatist Tuareg rebel group wants an independent state in northern Mali called Azawad. MNLA say they want this state for all the peoples of northern Mali (Tuaregs, Songhai, Arabs, and Fulani are the main ethnic groups). They have some token members from the Songhai ethnic group, but the fact is that 99 percent of MNLA fighters are Tuaregs whose motivation is to have a Tuareg state.

The leader of MNLA is Bilal Ag Cherif, an Ifoghas Tuareg, and his deputy is Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, who is a Songhai. The group which once controlled the cities of Gao and Kidal has largely melted back into the population awaiting its next chance.

The MNLA is generally disregarded and underestimated because it has receded and allowed al-Qaeda-linked groups to take over the field. But it’s important to remember the genesis of this crisis was an action by the MNLA to take over northern Mali, and all that is happening can be seen as a kind of reaction. The aspirations of the MNLA are deep-rooted going back to the first Tuareg rebellion in 1963. Their demands are not going to go away and those demands will continue to be the deep root of the northern Mali crisis. [Continue reading…]

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