Tensions soar as Malian soldiers arrive in Kidal
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Since the Malian army arrived in the northern town of Kidal on Friday, tensions have been rising between residents who support the soldiers’ presence and those who want their departure. Demonstrators have been gathering at a military camp to the west of the city to protest the army’s presence. Meanwhile, about a hundred pro-army Kidal residents have taken refuge inside the camp because they fear reprisals.
Pro-Azawad protesters crowding in front of the camp where the Malian army is staying. Photo by Othman Ag Mohamed.
Since the Malian army arrived in the northern town of Kidal on Friday, tensions have been rising between residents who support the soldiers’ presence and those who want them to leave. Demonstrators have been holding daily protests at a military camp in the west of the city. Meanwhile, about a hundred pro-army Kidal residents have taken refuge inside the camp because they fear reprisals.
The Ouagadougou peace accord, signed on June 18 between the Malian state and representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), decreed that armed Tuareg groups in Kidal would be placed under close surveillance by the army ahead of the presidential elections on July 29.
In spite of this, the arrival of 200 soldiers caused tensions to spike between MNLA independence activists and civilians that came to celebrate the soldiers’ arrival. These civilians were forced to take refuge in Camp 1, where Malian soldiers will be posted until all Tuareg fighters are placed in another camp and disarmed.
In a press release on Monday, the Malian army accused the MNLA activists in Kidal of “serious violations” of the Ouagadougou accord and claimed that three soldiers from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma) — including one French national — were injured by rocks thrown by protesters as they were securing the camp’s perimeter.
The Malian army last set foot in Kidal roughly a year and a half ago. The city had fallen to MNLA fighters and jihadists from the armed group Ansar Dine in March 2012, and was then occupied by the latter for nine months. The MNLA re-took Kidal in January 2013 with the help of the French army, with whom the MNLA had teamed up to fight its former ally.
Protesters, including women and children, in front of Camp 1 in Kidal on Saturday. Photo posted on Facebook by Touareg Libya.
“Tuareg chiefs try to calm us by telling us the army is here ‘for show’, but we remain very sceptical”
Ibrahim Ag Souleymane is Tuareg. He has taken part in pro-independence protests.
We are angry because we feel that the Malian army is not respecting the Ouagadougou accord: the soldiers coming to Kidal were supposed to be a homogenous mix of ordinary soldiers from the north and south of Mali, and above all not to be pro-Gamou [El Hadj Ag Gamou is a colonel who had pretended to join the movement in March 2012 before rejoining his troops in Niger; MNLA representatives have called him a “traitor of the Tuareg cause” and suspect him of carrying out reprisals]. We think that they’re here because most of the Malian army just does not know the area and because they need Gamou’s men in case there is a conflict with MNLA members [according to RFI, between 20 and 30 Gamou soldiers are part of the 200-soldier force. The Malian army has not confirmed this].
Since Sunday, our leaders have spoken with pro-independence youths to explain that they must avoid conflict, and especially not throw rocks or provoke those who support the military. They are waiting for the results of discussions with the president of the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission [which is in charge of hosting talks about the unity of the country], who has been in Kidal since Tuesday. They tried to reassure us by explaining that the Malian army is there because of international pressure, only ‘for show’.
But people are very sceptical. Some continue to burn tyres in the street. Teenagers and old women have pitched tents in front of the camp. They are yelling “Yes to Azawad [the name independence activists give the region], no to Mali!” and have been peacefully protesting every day. They are very afraid that the Malian army will start patrolling the city, because they fear potential reprisals against the “light-skinned”, as was the case in other regions of Mali [Human Rights Watch recently stated that the Malian army had committed about a dozen reprisals against the members of the Tuareg community in the city of Moptil, further south].
Pro-independence protesters burned tyres to protest at the arrival of the Malian army. Photo taken by Ibrahim Ag Souleymane on Tuesday morning.
“The pro-independence people have been provoking us, telling us to leave otherwise bad things will happen to us”
Sidi Ag Albaka is Tuareg. He participated in the protests in support of the Malian army and took refuge in the camp following the clashes with pro-independence protesters.
I have been in the camp since Friday evening [like over 100 other civilians]. In here, there are about 40 or so injured people being treated by the military. From my vantage point, I can see the protesters outside: they are trying to provoke us by burning Malian flags, insulting us, and saying they will ‘storm the camp and slit our throats, one by one’. Some of us have even been receiving threats on our cell phones. The pro-independence protesters are pressuring us, telling us we need to join their side, otherwise bad things will happen to us.
Those of us in the camp — civilians and soldiers alike — have received very clear directions not to provoke those on the outside. But we have never provoked anybody! On Friday, when the army arrived, most of us were going to welcome back brothers, husbands, or friends.
Kidal has been forgotten in all respects for far too long. Since the MNLA has been in control of the city, they have imposed their vision of things, arresting those people they suspect of spying and harassing those who don’t support their cause. All we wish, now, is for the elections to take place peacefully in Kidal, so that we can feel like we’re Malian again [Editor’s Note: One candidate, Tiébilé Dramé, has called for the election to be delayed because the electoral lists of the 13 districts in the Kidal region were allegedly still not finalised just three weeks before the election].
The Kidal roundabout was painted with the colours of the Azawad flag two days before the arrival of the Malian soldiers. According to Sidy Ag Albaka, this is “an example of the provocation that is taking place”. Photo by Ibrahim Ag Souleymane.