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Public Statements

The Tuareg Revolt and the Mali Coup

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, this morning, my subcommittee held a hearing to examine current U.S. policy and U.S. policy options in response to the recent military coup in Mali and the larger revolt of the Tuareg people in northern Mali.

The Tuaregs have been in conflict with the central government in Bamako, Mali, for many years, but following the service of some Tuaregs as mercenaries for the late Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, the acquisition of more sophisticated weapons from the Libyan conflict and increasing ties to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they now pose a danger not only to Mali, but also to Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and perhaps even Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Mali, in recent years a model of African democracy, now finds itself struggling to resurrect democratic governance and put the military back in its proper role as part of government. The downfall of Mali's democracy could have a negative impact on the future of Mali, as well as the entire Sahel region of Africa.
Amadou Toumani Touré--popularly known as ATT--led a military coup in 1991 that created a transitional government and resulted in democratic elections in 1992. Mali's growing reputation for democratic rule was enhanced in 2002, when President Alpha Oumar Konaré, having served the two terms permitted under the constitution, stepped down, and ATT, running as an independent and leveraging his reputation as Mali's ``soldier of democracy,'' was elected president.

Unfortunately, two issues eroded ATT's initial popularity. The first was a political system in which there appears to have been incentives for corruption. Certainly there was a growing public perception that the system was corrupt. The second was popular anger toward the government's handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the North. Weeks of protests at the government response to the northern rebellion dropped ATT's popularity to a new low.

On March 21, mutinying Malian soldiers, displeased with the management of the Tuareg rebellion, attacked several locations in the capital, Bamako, including the presidential palace, state television, and military barracks. The soldiers said they had formed the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State and declared the following day that they had overthrown the government. This forced ATT into hiding.

As a consequence of the instability following the coup, Mali's three largest northern cities--Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu--were overrun by the rebels on three consecutive days. On April 5, after the capture of the town of Douentza, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said that it had accomplished its goals and called off its offensive. The following day, it proclaimed independence of their homeland Azawad from Mali. The Islamist group Ansar al-Dine was later a part of the rebellion, claiming control of vast swaths of territory, although this control was disputed by the MNLA. On May 26, the MNLA and Ansar al-Dine announced that they had signed a pact to join their respective territories and form an Islamic state.

Will this alliance last? Perhaps not. The MNLA is an offshoot of a previous nationalist political movement and is dedicated to a separate homeland for the Tuaregs and Moors who comprise its membership. Ansar al-Dine, whose name means ``Defenders of Faith,'' is an Islamist group believed to have links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamist groups. Ansar al-Dine is dedicated to establishing sharia law--not only in Azawad, but also in the rest of Mali as well. Disputes between the two groups already have resulted in gunfire involving the supposed allies.

As we held this hearing today, the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations were discussing the viability of a peacekeeping mission in Mali. Such a mission would look to secure and protect civilian institutions and help restructure the Mali military. However, it also will focus on the situation in the North, which will be a tremendously sensitive matter, especially if the mission of the peacekeeping force is to retake territory from the MNLA and Ansar al-Dine.

To add further to the problematic nature of a response to the Mali coup and the Tuareg revolt, there is the matter of providing humanitarian aid to the 210,000 Malian refugees in Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Algeria. Another 167,000 Malians are internally displaced. Many of them are in remote areas and are difficult to reach with food and medical supplies. There is the question of how effective our aid efforts will be in such a challenging situation.

But no matter how difficult this matter is to address, there are too many people affected for the United States to fail to provide leadership in the effort to solve this political-social crisis.

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