After three months of military advances, the Tuareg forces controlling the north-eastern part of Mali declared its independence from the junta-controlled south-west.
The declaration was voiced of Friday by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), the political force behind the rebellion. Tuaregs have been seeking sovereignty of their historical homeland, Azawad in western Africa, for decades.
The NMLA called on the international community to recognize their rights for self-determination. It also reiterated its pledge to stop hostilities against the central government of Mali, focusing instead on building up security in their territory.
The situation in the rebel-controlled territory remains tense, with reports of rampant looting and militant attacks coming from it. There are fears that if it is not taken under control, a fully-fledged humanitarian crisis may break out.
On Thursday an Algerian consulate in the city of Gao was stormed by people, who are believed to be members of the extremist Islamist Tuareg group Ansar ad-Dine. The gunmen abducted seven diplomats.
The NMLA called the act “deplorable”, but it is not clear whether it has enough leverage on Ansar ad-Dine. There are conflicting reports over which of the rival factions is more powerful at the moment.
Mali governmental forces have been failing to stop the Tuareg advance ever since it began in January. Government troops retreated from the northern part of the country after a military coup two weeks ago.
Mali’s prospect of becoming a failed state caused concern among its neighbors and investors.
Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional economic block, threatened to impose sanctions against Mali if the junta does not return power to the ousted President Toure.
It wanted to carry out an on-site inspection of Mali and hold talks with the interim government, but the delegation’s plane could not land due to a pro-junta crowd, which gathered at the airport.