News & Analysis AVT2_Moussa-Ag-Assarid_2927

Published on June 14th, 2013 | by EJC


Conflict In Mali: National Movement For The Liberation Of Azawad Speaks

This article is based on the interview conducted by Clarissa Maracci which was originally published on 14 February 2013 at Fatto&Diritto (F&D) .

Clarissa Maracci, Foreign Affairs Editor for Fatto & Diritto, interviews Moussa Ag Assarid, the spokesman of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). This political and military organisation is fighting for the autonomy of the territories of northern Mali. Ahead of the national election in July, the rebels were reluctant to allow the Malian army to intervene in their acclaimed territory. Yet, as the result of amendments to the deal, the MNLA stated to the AFP their willingness to sign the agreement. Nevertheless, the UN warns the security in the north remains “complex and volatile”, as Al Jazeera reports.

Moussa Ag Assarid is the representative of MNLA in Europe. Born in 1975 in the Sahara desert and growing up reading ‘Le Petit Prince’, he made his way to France where he was naturalised in 2010. Today, he states his role at the MNLA is to fight for the liberation of the Azawad territories and to make the voice of the Tuareg people heard in Europe. He is the author of three books, ‘Y a pas d’embouteillage dans le désert ! : Chroniques d’un Touareg en France (There’s no traffic jam in the desert! : Chronicles of a Tuareg in France)‘, ‘Enfants des sable (Children of Sand)’, and ‘Il y a pas que du sable dans le desert (It’s not just sand in the desert)‘.

As the MNLA’s affiliations, incentives and actions in many cases appear unclear, the interview aims to shed light on the viewpoints of the MNLA. The interview was conducted in January 2013.

Q: What is the MNLA aiming to achieve? Why do you want the liberation?

M.A: The MNLA’s objective is to restore the sovereignty of the inhabitants on the Azawad territories. The MNLA includes not only the Tuareg, but also all the people who live in the northern part of Mali. From a cultural point of view, I am fighting for the ethnic recognition of the Tuareg people, while, from a political point of view, the MNLA includes several tribes living in the desert of Mali including Tuareg, Songhai, Fulani and Mauri. We aim to create a state where we can live peacefully in the desert territories of Azawad, free from the control by the Malian army.

Q: According to the UN’s report on the situation in Mali, the MNLA has made an alliance with MUJAO, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine initiating a series of attacks against. We understood that the MNLA however has a different point of view regarding these movements. Could you comment on this?

M.A: We, as the MNLA, have been fighting against these rebels since June 2012. Tuareg practice moderate Islam and Catholicism. The Government of Bamako is trying to delegitimise the MNLA claiming that we are a minority within a minority because not all the Tuareg joined the MNLA. However, I believe that the revolution can start from a small spark, like the ten Chinese men of Mao Zetong, or like what happened in Tunisia, where it started with the death of a single man.

Q: What do you think about the intervention of the French army?

M.A.: The French army arrived on 11 January 2013 and of course we appreciate their intervention if it aims at fighting against the terrorism practiced by Islamic rebels (MUJAO, AQIM, ANSAR DINE). However, we strongly disagree with the return of the Malian army in the Azawad. All the administration is corrupt in Mali, including the army. We were never protected by this army  - not even now.

Q: Why do you think France intervened?

M.A.: In order to stop the advance of the terrorists. Certainly they want to protect their interests, like everyone else.

Q: Which interests? 

M.A. : Petrol is not blue, it’s black!

Q: According to Amnesty International, the MNLA is recruiting child soldiers to fight against the army. Is this true?

M.A. : As far as I know the MNLA does not recruit young people under the age of 18. Young Tuareg men that I saw were between the ages of 18 and 20. It is true that many of them are undernourished and appear smaller than their effective age and many others don’t know when they were born because most of us don’t have an identity document. I have personally attended training on respect of human rights and humanitarian law. It is the Malian army that practices arbitrary execution.  

Q: What is the current situation in the field?

M.A.: The current situation is as follows: the French army stands between us and the Malian army. Currently the two major cities of Gao and Tombouctou are controlled by the French and Malian army, while the city Kidal is controlled by the French soldiers and the MNLA.

Q: So, is France supporting you or the Malian army?

M.A.: The army tries to stop terrorist groups such as the AQIM, the MOUJAO, and the Ansar Dine. The first are from Algeria, the MOUJAO come from Morocco and Mauritania while the head of the Ansar Dine is a Tuareg and its members come from the Azawad.

Q: Why did people from other countries decide to take part to the rebellion in the Azawad?

M.A.: The Mali Desert is a free land for the traffic of weapons and drugs. The Malian army that controlled the territory is easily corruptible. Inhabitants are very poor and have no education. It is a forgotten territory. Fifty years of laxity and corruption have led to the present situation.

Q: If it is forgotten, why did the government in Bamako decide to set up a militarily control over it?  

M.A.: Surely the desert is rich in natural resources such as oil, magnesium, bauxite, phosphates, gold, diamonds … but now, not all deposits of natural resources are commercially exploited.

Q: This is not the first time that Tuareg people are trying to get rid of the Malian army. Can you recall your parents’ involvement in the previous rebellions?

M.A. My father took part in the rebellion of 1963, while I was supposed to take part in that of the 1990s, but I decided to continue with my studies to give a voice to my people. Today, this allows me to spread in Europe the truth about this war and be the spokesperson of the MNLA.

F&D : Finally, could you share with us a slogan of the MNLA and Tuareg people?

M.A.: We Tuareg say: “Eloignez vous du temps et rapprochez vos coeurs, que les vrai habitat de l’homme c’est l’horizont. (Keep your time and your hearts closer, the true home of man is the horizon.)


About the Interviewer:

Clarissa Maracci is the Chief Editor of Foreign Affairs for F&D. She obtained a L.L.M. in International Law in Bologna Univeristy and accomplished a traineeship in the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. She is working as legal consultant in Italy, and journalist for Fatto&Diritto covering international relations and policies, wars, confilct and human rights issues. 

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