The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, recently berated Mali’s president Dioncounda Traoré about increasing reports of military violence against light-skinned civilians. Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have also accused the Malian army of racist attacks against innocent Tuareg, Arabs and Fulani men.
As many feared, wresting the northern two thirds of Mali back from the Islamists has been easier than reuniting the nation.
The tumultuous events of the past year have provoked much soul-searching among Tuareg, calling into question their long-held dream for independence in the northern region of Mali that they call Azawad. Until 18 months ago, the nomadic Berber people whose territory straddles five Saharan nations, were best known in the west for their colourful clothing and music festival held in the desert near Timbuktu. This benign image soured in 2011 when reports emerged that opportunistic Tuareg mercenaries were propping up the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
Things worsened in February 2012 amid news that heavily armed Tuareg fighters were sweeping from Libya back into northern Mali and teaming up with al-Qaida-linked jihadists to bring Mali to its knees. Yet most Tuareg do not even begin to see themselves as Islamists, terrorists or gunrunners and are dismayed by their new starring role in the “global war on terror”.
Many Tuareg blame their former hero Iyad Ag Ghaly. Once a leader of the Tuareg separatist movement in Mali, Ag Ghaly, who had become a “born again” Muslim in the 1990s, made a pact with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) early last year to take control of northern Mali and impose sharia law. Now he is on the run from the French and Chadian armies in the remote Tigharghar mountains in the far north east of Mali.
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