The main non-state armed group in Mali has been an ethnic Tuareg uprising, referred to as the 23 May Democratic Alliance for Change. One of the leading members of the group, the Tuareg Alliance of Northern Mali, took part in a significant raid on a Government outpost in May 2008 prior to the July 2008 agreement on a ceasefire. In September 2008, the Democratic Alliance for Change released 44 military prisoners in an important step towards peace. But in November 2008, there were fears of a resurgence of violence in the north of the country.
The Tuareg people inhabit the Sahara Desert in northern Mali, as well as several neighbouring countries and have fought several rebellions over the years, complaining that they have been ignored by the authorities in distant Bamako. The UN has voiced alarm at the presence of Ansar Dine, which has links to an al-Qaeda franchise which operates in the region
There has also been fighting as a result of action by Ganda Izo (Sons of the Land), a self-defence militia. In September 2008, authorities in Niger arrested the leader of Ganda Izo. Malian authorities, keen to promote avoid further ethnic conflict, had launched an assault against the Ganda Izo militia after the group killed five Tuareg nomads.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad- MNLA
The MNLA was formed in 2011, partly by well-armed Tuareg fighters returning from Libya, where they had backed former leader Muammar Gaddafi. The MNLA is one of two rebel groups to have gained ground in the area after Mali's government was ousted in a coup.
On April 2012 the MNLA proclaimed independence, adding it would respect existing borders with neighbouring states and adhere to the UN Charter. The statement also called for recognition from the international community.
However, neither the African Union, the United States nor the European Union recognise Azawad's independence. In late May 2012, the transitional Malian government also categorically rejected the north's independence.
See also:"Briefing: War and peace – Mali repeats the cycle", IRIN, 29 March 2012, "Mali Tuareg rebels declare independence in the north", BBC News, 6 April 2012, "Mali: Rebels and their cause" , UN News Service, 23 April 2012, and "Mali: War Crimes by Northern Rebels: Armed Groups Commit Rape, Use Child Soldiers", Human Rights Watch, 30 April 2012.
On the crisis in northern Mali, the MNLA rebellion, and the impact of AQIM see: "MALI: Holy wars and hostages – Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb", IRIN News, 29 March 2012
According to the above report, "Tuareg leaders, not least from the MNLA, which is fighting to carve out an independent state in the north, have consistently called for the expulsion of AQIM from Malian territory, and accuse the authorities of giving free rein to criminal elements." However, according to the International Crisis Group, "suspected MNLA alliance with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb confirmed following summary executions of 95 government fighters in Aguelhok on 24 January 2012; the MNLA reiterated it has no links with terrorist group".
Ansar Dine is an Islamist militant group led by a former leader of the 1990s Tuareg rebellion, Iyad Ag Ghaly, based in northern Mali with reported links to AQIM. By June 2012, the already strained relationship between Ansar Dine and the MNLA imploded, with the latter driven out of main northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. The town of Douentza followed in September, seeing the Islamists reach ever closer into Government-held territory. They were also responsible for the destruction of UNESCO world heritage sites in Timbuktu, while the imposition of sharia law in their controlled areas led thousands to flee.
See also: Paul Melly, "Is the world ready to take on Mali's Islamists?", BBC News, 26 October 2012; "Timbuktu's Sidi Yahia mosque attacked by Mali militants", BBC news, 2 July 2012; "Mali Tuareg and Islamist rebels agree on Islamist state", BBC news, 27 May 2012, "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb", The New York Times, 7 June 2012, "Profile: Al-Qaeda in North Africa", BBC News, 9 March 2012, UN Report of the assessment mission on the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Sahel region, S/2012/42, January 2012 and "Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction?", International Crisis Group, 2005
Last updated: 25 November 2012