MALI: Civil society cautiously optimistic about prisoner release
Tuareg rebels near the Sahara desert have periodically taken up arms to demand more government services
BAMAKO, 10 September 2008 (IRIN) - Malian civil society organisations say the 09 September release of 44 military prisoners by the rebel May 23 Alliance for Democratic Change in northern Mali is an important step to move past a year of conflict.
Mariam Maiga, president of the National Peace Coalition Against Small Arms Trafficking, said the liberation of these prisoners by Tuareg rebel leader Ibrahim Ag Bahanga is critical for national unity.
“Our organisation is so pleased because our children, our husbands and brothers will return to their families. It is a beginning of a long-awaited and much hoped-for peace. The gesture is so important and is a good omen to promote dialogue, which our organisation has always promoted.”
Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanant, vice president of Association for the Consolidation of Peace, Development and Human Rights, said the release is promising for further dialogue. “It is necessary to prevent any conflict that can threaten northern Mali’s development.”
Idbaltanant called on both sides to honour the most recent peace agreement negotiated July 2008 in Algiers, as well as previous accords that ended earlier waves of violence, including the government’s pledge to deliver US$2 million in development assistance to the north.
Mali's government and the rebels signed an Algerian-brokered ceasefire in July 2008. Some Tuareg ex-rebels are expected to join a desert security force based in the northeast by the end of September 2008
“The government and rebels need to work together toward a lasting peace. We are confident and can start this work without fear.” said Idbaltanant.
Defense Ministry spokesman Nouhoum Togo told IRIN Defense Minister Gabriel Poudiougou had travelled to Gao, northeast Mali’s regional government, on 10 September for the official prisoner handover, adding, “We are taking care of only the military aspect [of the conflict]. The rest will be handled by Koulouba [the president’s office].”
Various Tuareg rebel factions have periodically taken up arms over the past nearly two decades against the government demanding more services in the drought-prone north, and autonomy for the northeast region’s Tuareg nomadic communities.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]