The Islamists are far richer, earning money in recent years by kidnapping Westerners for ransom and trafficking cocaine, marijuana and cigarettes.The MNLA has come out in support of France’s military intervention, hoping that this will help it regain control in the north.Two important figures in the MNLA are the general secretary Bila Ag Cherif and Mohamed Ag Najim, the head of the movement’s military wing.At the same time, the group has watered down its demand for independence, saying it will settle, as a first step, for autonomy.
Last year, the MNLA endorsed mediation efforts by Burkina Faso to end the Malian conflict.Ansar Dine – the home-grown Islamist movement – also expressed support for the initiative. It had announced a ceasefire in November to give peace talks a chance.But in early January, the ceasefire broke as Ansar Dine and the Malian army accused each other of resuming hostilities.The first Tuareg rebellion began in 1963, lasting less than a year before it was brutally suppressed by government forces. Divisions between Tuareg clans hindered their ability to fight together against the government.
In the decades that followed the first rebellion, government policies tended to neglect northern Mali, which was already fragile due to a series of droughts. Many Tuareg moved into aid camps in the south or crossed into neighboring countries to find work. Hundreds of Tuareg moved to Libya, where they fought abroad on behalf of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Islamic Legion.After Qaddafi’s Islamic Legion was disbanded in the late 1980’s many Tuareg began to return to northern Mali. The different Tuareg clans decided to consolidate their efforts in the fight against the government and in June 1990 launched a second rebellion. In 1992, Mali country held its first democratic and multiparty election.
Despite apparent political progress, the fight in the north between the Tuareg and the military dragged on. Several peace accords were signed in an effort to stabilize relations between the Tuareg and Arab groups, but none were implemented successfully.