Ber, Mali

On Monday and Tuesday, Malian and Burkinabe soldiers moved into the village of Ber (map), in the Timbuktu region. AP calls Ber “a focal point in recent weeks of fighting between two of Mali’s ethnic minorities — Tuaregs and Arabs.”* RFI (French) has more detail on Tuareg-Arab clashes in Ber, or more specifically, clashes between the Movement of Arabs of Azawad (MAA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). An MAA commander (French) has stated that Arab forces forces in Ber, however, did not act on the MAA’s orders. Whatever the case, residents reportedly called on troops to pacify the village. Troops have since made a number of arrests – in one account (Arabic), these arrests targeted Arabs and raised fears in the Arab community that a “wave of new arrests” of Arabs would follow.

Events in Ber highlight, first of all, the uncertainties surrounding information coming out of northern Mali (what happened? who made decisions? who acted in whose name?) and the narratives that compete for the spotlight. These events also call attention to community-level conflicts elsewhere in northern Mali (see this article, in French, on intra-Arab fighting in Anefis, north of Gao). In my view, if you combine Tuaregs’ and Arabs’ widespread fear of communal violence, the actual occurrence of communal violence, and the competing narratives that emerge from violence, you create conditions for (adding to) long-lasting grievances and mistrust in these communities. Reported abuses by Malian soldiers against Peul, Tuaregs, and Arabs further exacerbate fear and anger.

*It’s worth mentioning that Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, is an Arab from Ber.

Africa News Roundup: Davos and Africa, Arrests in Mauritania, Darfur Talks, and More

Reuters: “At Davos, Bankers Close in on Africa.”

French and Malian soldiers may take Gao soon.

Timbuktu is apparently something of a ghost town at the moment.

AFRICOM: “AFRICOM Commander Addresses Concerns, Potential Solutions in Mali.”

Mauritania:

“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st). [Original story in Arabic here – six of them seem to have been subsequently freed (Arabic).]

Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.

Somalia:

Somali security forces will not be able to replace African troops until the international community provides “predictable” funding for their training, according to the United Nations.
“The withdrawal, whether it’s Ethiopian or Amisom, is contingent upon adequate replacement by the Somali forces,” Augustine Mahiga, the UN sectrerary-general’s special representative to the Horn of Africa nation, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The pace at which Somali forces are being trained is not as fast because there hasn’t been predictable funding.”

Sudan Tribune: “The Sudanese government and a rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have agreed on an agenda to negotiate a peace deal, an international official told the UN Security Council (UNSC).”

IRIN: “Chad’s Health System Struggles to Combat Malnutrition.”

What else is happening?

Mauritania: A Fraudulent AQIM Arrest?

On September 28th, Mauritanian authorities told news outlets they had arrested seven members of AQIM three days earlier. This appeared to count as another success in Mauritanian authorities’ campaign against terrorism; during the summer, officials arrested at least four AQIM suspects on charges of killing Christopher Leggett, an American aid worker.

From the beginning, however, local witnesses disputed Nouakchott’s account of this new arrest.

Timbuktu, Mali

Timbuktu, Mali

Soldiers apprehended the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) suspects last week in the desert near the border with Mali and Algeria, said the official on condition of anonymity.

“The men were armed, they numbered seven and they were travelling in vehicles that included a truck used by AQIM terrorists,” he said.

But a city councillor in the Malian city of Timbuktu, Dina Ould Daya, said those arrested were members of his family — all civilians, and not Islamists — who were arrested on Malian soil en route to repairing a broken truck.

They were arrested on Friday, Ould Daya told AFP, and they included Elly Ould Natmo, a master mechanic, as well as four apprentices, a 16-year-old youth and a deaf mute.

“They are relatives,” said another member of the family, Sidi Mohamed Oudl Amed. “I acknowledged they had some weapons, because here in the desert, when you travel far, you take a gun, because you never know.”

The arrests took place near Lemgheity, where in June 2005 an attack by the group — then known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat — left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead.

Over at The Moor Next Door, Kal now concludes that the arrestees were not AQIM fighters. He points us to an article at Taqadoumy (French) which repeats the account about the broken truck and adds that Malian authorities had reported the men missing prior to their arrest. Taqadoumy goes on to speculate that this incident could lead to strikes by young Malian Touareg men on Mauritanian vehicles that cross into Malian territory.

I respect Kal’s knowledge of Mauritania deeply, but I can’t offer an opinion without seeing more evidence. Hopefully more reports and information will emerge as time passes.

Accusations of fraudulent arrests in the Sahara call to mind the work of Jeremy Keenan, a British anthropologist who claims Algerian security forces framed AQIM’s precursors for the kidnapping of a group of European tourists in 2003 (h/t Jacob Mundy). With this, too, I state no opinion. The very fact that events in the Sahara are so contested, though, raises a lot of questions about counterterrorism efforts there – about the political motives of Sahelian governments and other groups in the region, about the viability of US partnerships with different actors there, and about political relationships between different countries in North and West Africa.