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Morocco’s Western Sahara Autonomy Plan Key to Algeria’s mediation in Mali

MoroccoBoard.com, 9 février 2012

vendredi 10 février 2012, par Tilelli

Washington / Morocco Board News—The Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali has exposed the limitations and the depth of the regional powers’ efforts to contain lawlessness, terrorism and political instability in the Sahel and the Algerian Sahara. The capture by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), a movement fighting for the independence of northern Mali, of the strategic city of Tinzawatene is a major coup for the rebels and a setback for the Algerian mediation efforts.

The NMLA’s drive to establish a homeland for the Tuareg, a group of Berber nomads that inhabit large sections of the Sahel and parts of the Algerian Sahara, is a major destabilization factor that would add to the volatility in the sub-Sahara and Algeria threatening American and Western interests in countries as far as Nigeria.

The NMLA demands are similar to the Algeria backed Polisario guerrilla’s call for an independent state in the Moroccan ruled Western Sahara. Ironically, Mali and Algeria support the Polisario’s quest for independence but deny the Azawad people the same rights. While the NMLA keep good relations with Algerian Military establishment , they deem Algiers stand as hypocrite. The Tuareg believe that such double standard will unduly prolong the fighting and insecurity in Algeria and Mali and add to the suffering of the civilian populations The swelling number of Tuareg refugees crossing into Niger, Mauritania and Algeria fleeing the fighting and the NMLA fighters quick military successes make the Tuareg drive for independence looks more like the Algerian backed Polisario unsuccessful efforts to set up an independent country in the Western Sahara in 1975. While NMLA ‘s demands for better treatment and more local rule are legitimate, just like the Sahrawis, the Tuareg’s plea for self-determination is impractical and unsustainable. Interestingly, Morocco’s local autonomy plan for the Western Sahara may serve as a blue print for a resolution to the crisis in Mali. Unlike its unequivocal calls for the self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara, the Algerian government has been working tirelessly to push for a resolution for the Tuareg rebellion based on the concept of local autonomy of the Azawad within Mali. The Algerian government, worried about the potential pitfalls of an independent Azawad on Algeria’s Tuareg and the restless Kabyle population where calls for self-rule are becoming louder and aggressive , is basically espousing the Moroccan resolution plan for the Western Sahara as a model for Mali but not for the Sahrawi conflict. Algeria’s efforts to contain the fighting in Mali seem ineffective, especially after the rejection by the MNLA of the Tuareg delegation sent to negotiate with the Malian government in Algeria last week. In an interview with the Algerian Daily El Khabar, the General Secretary of the MNLA declared that “the movement of Azawad does not recognize the delegation entered into talks with the Malian government under the leadership of Algeria. The negotiations that started on Friday with elements of the Alliance for Change led by Hamada Ag Bibi, have nothing to do with the MNLA.” Furthermore, Mr. Ag Bilal Sharif added that "the call for a cease-fire launched in Algiers is not our concern." The MNLA is not sold on Algeria’s intentions. As a sign with displeasure with the Algerian stand Mr. Mr. Ag Bilal Sharif, issued a statement expressing MNLA’s “profound thanks to the French Authorities for the interest in the people’s revolution of Azawad.” With so much at stake, the international community should intervene to resolve the Azawad conflict. Algeria is a biased player that lacks the confidence of the Malian Tuareg . The United States and the European must realize the gravity of the situation in Mali and the potential disastrous humanitarian, political and security impact of a long drawn conflict.


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