After several days of talks in Burkina Faso, Mali’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) announced on 5 November 2013 that they had tentatively agreed to form a common negotiating committee and joint decision making body to put forward a common negotiating position in talks with the central government. The merger is reported to be set to come into affect in forty-five days, giving time for the groups to consult with their membership and approve the agreement.
The announcement was viewed as an attempt to jump-start peace talks in Mali, which had been resumed in October, but were suspended again after rebels walked out. Fighting has since resumed, primarily in and around the area of Kidal, the same town in which two French journalists were abducted from this past weekend. The journalists were later killed. Rebels in Mali’s north are primarily fighting for greater autonomy in the desert region where the government continues to exerts little control.
This is also not the first time Tuaregs and Arab groups have forged alliances in their battles with the central government. In May 2012, it was reported that the MNLA had aligned itself with the Salafist group Ansar Dine to form the Council of the Islamic State of Azawad. This group won notable victories in the latter half of 2012 prompting an international response, which was led by the French and supported by the United States. Ansar Dine’s push for Sharia Law in Mali’s north had been a major obstacle between them and Tuareg groups prior to the agreement to form a coalition in 2012. As the pair began to secure areas in Mali’s north, reported pushes to convert Tuareg tribesmen to their stricter brand of Islam caused divisions between the MNLA and Ansar Dine again. It is unclear whether any common negotiating position would fully address this issue.