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Mali Brands Recent Attacks Terrorism, Plans Regional Defense


Mali's government has denounced last week's deadly attacks in its northeastern desert region as acts of terrorism by Tuareg nomads, but Saharan experts say the government is only looking for international sympathy. Phuong Tran brings us more from VOA's West African Bureau in Dakar.

Netherlands-based nomad-culture researcher Benjamin Soares says the Minister of Foreign Affairs' televised speech last Saturday calling recent violence an international threat is an easy way for the government to get money.

Last week's violence has led to dozens of national army defections, government soldier kidnappings, and civilian deaths.

"I am certain that they would like to use such language as terrorism because it is likely to get attention outside of Mali," said Soares.

Mali receives military support and funds through the multi-million dollar U.S. Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative. U.S. armed forces are conducting military training in Mali's capital, Bamako, as part of the initiative.

Anthropologist Soares says the real problem is ethnic marginalization, non-existent roads and services, and lack of access to mineral wealth in the Tuaregs' northeast desert home.

"There is a lot of discontent in the country. This is just another phase of an on-going problem that has not been resolved," he said. "These problems go back many decades."

Paris-based Terrorism analyst and criminologist Xavier Raufer says even though there may be Osama Bin Laden followers in the region, Mali's desert attacks do not pose an international threat and will not spread.

Raufer says recent violence is because of local grievances, and a clan leader getting his followers to attack.

"It is not big international manipulation, it is on the local level between clans that are allied or hostile to each othe," he said.

No nomad clan has claimed responsibility, but Malian officials say Tuareg ex-rebel Ibrahim Bahanga is to blame.

Bahanga participated in the 1990's Tuareg revolt that ended in a peace deal promising more army integration, better treatment, and economic development. A one-day revolt last year led by another Tuareg faction ended in a similar peace deal.

The leader of last year's revolt, ex-rebel Iyad Ag Ghaly, is currently pursuing talks with Bahanga on behalf of the government to release hostages and end fighting, according to a member of Ghaly's group.

Analysts who have worked closely with the nomads say factionalism and lack of a clear mission among fighters have crippled their ability to push for peace-deal enforcement.

Mali's government says it has honored its peace commitments, except creating youth employment, which it says is in development.

Malian officials have linked the resurgence of violence in its northeast to the seven-month Tuareg rebellion in Niger's uranium-rich Agadez region. Tuareg rebels and ex-rebels on both sides deny any military alliance.

Mali's Minister of Foreign Affairs Moctar Ouane has said the country will take a regional approach to quell the recent violence, without specifying its partners.

Algeria led mediation efforts to end the 1990's Tuareg revolt in Mali. Niger is seeking help from Libya and Sudan in its own Tuareg rebellion.

Mali and Niger's defense ministers signed an agreement last month to fight weapons and drug smuggling, giving each side the right to pursue suspected traffickers across the shared border.

According to the United Nations, Mali and Niger's residents have the worst living conditions in the world.

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