Forces from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have sent local leaders to reach out to protestors in Gao – after a protest Monday ended in violent clashes between MNLA forces and civilians.
“The MNLA today in Gao is trying to talk to the people to organize security and organize the town. If they want to protest peacefully, they can protest peacefully, but not kill people,” said a spokesman for the MNLA, Moussa ag Assarid.
Ag Assarid added forces from the MNLA began firing their guns into the air on Monday to disperse a crowd of young protesters who he said were marching through Gao carrying weapons. Hundreds of youth had taken to the streets, reportedly after Islamists smashed TV sets and prohibited soccer matches in further attempts to impose Sharia law. The protestors destroyed the flags of MNLA and Ansar Dine, an Islamic group that fought alongside the MNLA earlier this year.
Though MNLA is not one of the groups advocating Sharia law, ag Assarid said four of its members were injured and one killed during the protest. However, an army spokeman said the injured were among the protesters.
Idrissa Traore, Malian Army spokesperson, denied that the protestors were armed. “The protesters were the ones who were hurt,” he said. “They had no guns, they had no weapons. They were peaceful.”
Traore added the youth were protesting the occupation of their city by outside forces, including the MNLA.
The MNLA is a Tuareg-led rebel group that had been fighting for decades to gain independence from Malian authorities in the country’s north. After a coup d’etat in Bamako earlier this year, the separatist group seized control of Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and the surrounding region, declaring it the independent state of Azawad.
According to ag Assarid, residents are allowed to protest, but for safety reasons must first speak with local MNLA forces. “There is a presence of foreign armed groups, notably al-Qaida,” he said, adding the local population must be patient while MNLA works to oust these groups.
Amnesty International released a report Tuesday, cataloguing events after the coup and MNLA-takeover in north Mali. The rights group said “all parties to the conflict are believed to be committing human rights violations and abuses.” Abuses according to Amnesty included rape, extrajudicial killings and more.