Violence leaves people divided over next steps

Citizens are divided on what should be the next steps following the latest round of violence between Tuareg rebels and Malian army officers, which has led to the kidnapping of up to 30 Malian soldiers and the deaths of three soldiers and five civilians in Mali’s northern Kidal region.

Fighting broke out on 20 March 18 km from the town of Tin-Zaouatene when rebels ambushed a government military supply convoy capturing soldiers and seizing as many as eight vehicles.

"We do not know what to do. When the shooting began between the rebels and the army, the entire population had to hide out at home,” said Amadou Koné a government official in Kidal.

He continued, “people stop trusting each other because they don’t know who is who. It is like being in Iraq or Palestine.”

The fighting came two weeks after the Northern Mali Tuareg Alliance for Change (ATNMC) released 22 military hostages from the nearby town of Kidal, 1,200 km from Bamako.

Two Austrian tourists are being held in the same region, after being kidnapped by al Qaeda militants on 16 March, and Austrian officials are currently trying to secure their release.

Humanitarian impact

Humanitarian work in the Kidal region has been hampered as a result of the fighting, according to Almoustaph Samaké, an official at a local non-governmental organisation Action. “With the growing insecurity we have started to withdraw from Kidal because in this climate nothing concrete can be done.”

Samaké told IRIN other NGOs were following suit.

There are also economic ramifications. “When the fighting started, all economic activity came to a halt,” Koné told IRIN.

Negotiations

Rebel spokesman Hama Ag Sidi Ahmed said the rebels would welcome dialogue with the government in coming weeks to help resolve the crisis.

The government has agreed. “The government has opted for negotiation…to preserve peace and the lives of military and civilian citizens,” said a Colonel from the Malian army who wished not to be named.

Saleck Ould Abdallah, member of the Association for the Development of the North is relieved. “There is nothing better than dialogue, the government should continue this tactic...as [if not] it is the poor people who will die unnecessarily in these confrontations.”

But in Bamako some citizens fear negotiation will not work.

Traoré Mariam Diara, mother of a military officer told IRIN, “The government must respond. These are our sons that we are sending out to the front lines and we are leaving them in the hands of these rebels. Why negotiate with these people who are killing us?”

Tuareg militants have been involved in sporadic fighting in the region for several decades, demanding greater autonomy and a greater share of the northern region’s natural resources.

(sd/aj)