News / Africa

Malian Militias Unite Against Rebel Occupation in the North

Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
x
Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
Anne Look
Militias in northern Mali say they have united to fight off the Tuareg and Islamist rebels that seized control of the region in early April.  Though their activities have so far been minimal, the alliance between these militia groups has raised fears of inter-communal violence in the north.

The Northern Mali Liberation Front, known by its French acronym FLNM, unites three main militia groups in the region: two Songhai militias, the Ganda Koy and the Ganda Izo, as well as fighters under the command of a Tuareg army colonel El Hadji Gamou.

The FLNM was formed in May in opposition to separatist Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants who seized control of northern Mali following a chaotic military coup in Bamako on March 22.

Idrissa Fall of VOA's French service interviewed the FLNM's military chief, El Kahedi Cisse, in Gao this month.

Tuareg SettlementsTuareg Settlements
x
Tuareg Settlements
Tuareg Settlements
Cisse says they have waged two successful attacks against Islamist militants.  He says the militias are employing guerrilla warfare, what he called a "one against ten" strategy against their adversaries, who he said are armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and other heavy weapons.  Cisse says they plan to intensify their attacks.  He says all three groups of the FLNM have the same objective: to liberate northern Mali.  He says they will remain active so long as the territory is occupied.  

Mali's central government in Bamako has long used proxy militias, like the Ganda Koy, to contain Tuareg rebellions and insecurity in the largely ungoverned northern reaches of the country.  Tuaregs are not the majority in northern Mali, which is also home to Arab, Songhai, Peul and Fulani groups.

Trouble Began in January

This most recent round of trouble in the north began in January when Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, launched a fight for independence.  The Malian army suffered several bitter defeats.  Anger at the government pushed soldiers to mutiny and then overthrow the government of president of Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22nd.  The MNLA, joined by a radical Islamist offshoot Ansar Dine, quickly seized control of three northern capitals in early April.

The Malian army is struggling to reorganize following the coup, and the future of the interim civilian government in Bamako remains uncertain.  West African leaders have opened separate negotiations with the two occupying forces and are formulating plans for a regional military intervention, should talks fail.

  • Refugees fleeing Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Amadou Cisse, of the Liberation Front in Northern Mali. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Two Gao women residents on a motorcycle. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A school for the blind in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Jobless people in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Citizens playing soccer, which is forbidden in the country. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A local office of EcoBank. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Inside a church destroyed by Islamists. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • On a scooter: Nafissatou Maiga, a teacher from Menaka now stuck in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Gao's soccer (football) field. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A man whose hand was amputated under Sharia law. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Azawad’s flag. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Hawa Doumbia, a trader. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • The house of a leader of MUJWA. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • The Niger river. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Obama stickers on motorcycles in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A ransacked restaurant. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
The FLNM secretary general, Saidou Amadou Cisse, told Fall in Niamey that negotiations over the future of northern Mali that exclude the Songhai ethnic group are "doomed."

Cisse says the FLNM includes members of the Arab, Songhai and Tamasheq, which is commonly known as the Tuareg, communities in the north.  He says negotiations with the MNLA and Ansar Dine that are taking place in Burkina Faso do not concern them.  He says talks should come after military action.  He says negotiations can happen when these two groups leave the towns.

The Ganda Koy militia was created by former Malian soldiers in opposition to the Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s.  The Ganda Izo is an offshoot, or some say a successor, to the Ganda Koy.  The militias include members of so-called dark-skinned ethnic groups in the North: the Songhai, Peul and Fulani.

Colonel El Hadji Gamou is a Tuareg from the Imghad ethnic group.  He was the most senior Malian military officer in the north and the leader of a pro-government militia.  He feigned joining the MNLA in April and then fled with his men, reported to number a few hundred, to safety in Niger.  Colonel Gamou has repeatedly voiced his willingness to help retake the north.  

Yvan Guichaoua, lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Britain, has done extensive research on Tuareg movements in Niger and Mali.

He says there are two ways to interpret news of the FLNM.

"First, it's people who are willing to fight who just want to signal that they are happy to be armed if anyone wants to give them arms.  That's the first interpretation.  The second could be that they have received some support and they might be operational.  But right now, nothing has happened on these fronts.  But you can clearly see that there is a project of counterinsurgency through proxy militias, unaccountable proxy militias, consolidating.  That would be a dramatic and very unwelcome shift to the current conflict that could basically mean tribal war," Guichaoua said.

He says the closed-door negotiations between rebel leaders and Burkinabe president, Blaise Compaore, in the absence of Malian authorities, could be catalyzing these grassroots stirrings of counter-insurgency in the North.

End of Peace Agreement

The peace agreement that ended the 1990 Tuareg rebellion was contested, he said, by other groups in the north who felt excluded, ultimately leading to violence.

"There was a shift in the 90s.  The rebellion led by the Tuareg transformed into a very nasty inter-tribal war between Tuareg groups -- some loyal to Bamako, some still contesting Bamako's hegemony -- and non-Tuareg groups, particularly the Ganda Koy," Guichaoua said.

The Ganda Koy, he said, are known for extreme violence and human rights abuses, including killing civilians.

"They have a dark history, these militias.  Are people in Bamako or maybe outside Mali maybe ready to arm these people?  That is the key question," Guichaoua said.

Meanwhile, frustration is mounting in northern towns, where residents have taken to the streets repeatedly to protest occupying forces.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs