Year in review 2014: Mali’s hope for elusive peace

Turbulence has continued in the West African country, dashing expectations of a return to normality after the French intervention, Colin Randall writes

More than 18 months after France began withdrawing the troops it sent to achieve swift defeat of rebel groups, lasting peace remains a distant dream in northern Mali.

Francois Hollande’s intervention was seen as a rare decisive moment in a weak French presidency. But turbulence has continued, as demonstrated by the breakdown of a truce between the government and Tuareg separatists in May and, more recently, the killing of nine United Nations peacekeepers.

The Tuareg uprising of 2012, in which the northern part of the West African country was seized and independence declared, led to a bitter struggle for dominance between rival rebel groups.

The better-armed Islamists of Ansar Dine, a Tuareg splinter group, and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) joined forces against the Tuaregs’ MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), to which Ansar Dine was formerly allied, and imposed a harsh form of Sharia rule in the captured cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao.

There were reports of women being flogged for minor breaches of the law and the destruction of historical shrines in Timbuktu deemed unIslamic.

After the chaos of 2012, French and Malian forces easily recaptured Timbuktu in February 2013 and re-established rule from the capital Bamako.

A US$4billion (Dh14.7bn) plan to boost the Malian economy was agreed at an international conference and presidential elections gave power to Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. But talks between his government and separatists, under Algerian mediation, have produced no hint of a definitive agreement.

There is also no sign that AQIM is a spent force. A prominent commander, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was confirmed to have been killed by French and Malian forces in February 2013; another, Omar Ould Hamaha, a Malian who held senior roles with both Ansar Dine and AQIM, met a similar fate in March this year.

But the group continues to hold western hostages and recently issued a video showing two men, French and Dutch, seized in separate kidnappings in Mali three years ago.

AQIM is one of region’s best-equipped militant groups, its wealth reportedly fuelled by ransoms extracted from western governments and humanitarian organisations. Two years before his death, Omar Ould Hamaha told The New York Times: “The source of our financing is the western countries. They are paying for jihad.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: December 31, 2014 04:00 AM

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