Widening crisis in Mali sees country split as rebels gain force

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Rebel forces in Northern Mali advanced their control over vast areas in an effort to consolidate a Saharan state, taking advantage of the political upheaval left  from last month’s military coup in the capital, Bamako.

The fighters are an alliance of Touareg and Islamic rebels seeking to establish a homeland for the Tuareg people. They said they were ready to negotiate with the government, according to Aljazeera 2 April. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said, after capturing the legendary town of Timbuktu, 900 kilometers northeast of Bamako, that they were not interested in enlarging the area under their control.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the coup’s leader Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo reinstated the 1992 constitution, just as a deadline for crippling sanctions was closing in.

Desire Ouedraogo, president of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), said he was satisfied with the announcement, according to Aljazeera. But  Ecowas went ahead Monday with a travel ban on Sanogo and his group, while also imposing a diplomatic and financial embargo.

It is unclear from Sanogo’s statement about the constitution when elections will take place and whether he still considers himself president.

The rebel MNLA forces have been boosted since the beginning of  2012 with the arrival of manpower and material arriving from neighboring Libya, where Tuaregs had been volunteering in Muammar Khadhafi’s army.

A group, known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been responsible for a number of kidnappings in Northern Mali. It is not clear what links the Tuareg rebels have with this or other Islamic groups.

Links to other sources:  AllAfrica, CNN, The Globe and Mail, AP