Mali’s main Tuareg rebellion denied accusations of links with al-Qaeda’s North African branch in an interview published by an Algeria paper Friday.
“Comparing us to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is preposterous,” Mossa Ag Atter, a spokesman for the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), told the el-Watan newspaper.
“The MNLA shares no interests nor policies with this terrorist organization,” he told the French-language daily.
A Malian government probe into a January rebel attack on the town of Aguelhok found that summary executions took place that bore the hallmarks of AQIM.
“The clothing of most of these bearded fighters and the way unarmed soldiers were executed testify to AQIM’s involvement in the fighting alongside the MNLA” in Aguelhok, the special inquiry commission said.
France had also reported on February 13 that several summary executions of soldiers and civilians took place in Aguelhok, a town in northern Mali which the Tuareg rebels conquered in late January.
Mossa Ag Atter returned the accusation however, hinting at ties between Bamako and AQIM.
“So long as Mali occupies our territory, so will AQIM,” he said. “AQIM was purposely established by Mali to maintain confusion.”
Bamako has in the past been accused of not doing enough to stamp out AQIM, which operates in a vast desert expanse straddling Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
In recent months however, the government has stepped up its campaign against the group, which has kidnapped or killed several Westerners on Malian soil and dealt a body blow to the country’s tourism industry.
On January 17, Tuareg rebels launched their biggest offensive since a 2009 rebellion as they demand autonomy in Mali’s vast north.
Many Tuareg in Mali and Niger left for Libya where they later fought for Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, but after his death in October they returned, some heavily armed, to their home countries.
The United Nations said Friday that the fighting had forced 126,000 people to flee their homes, about half within Mali and the other half into neighboring states.
One of those countries is Burkina Faso, whose Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, a seasoned African diplomat and mediator, is expected in Algiers on Sunday for talks with his Algerian counterpart.