By Serhat Orakçı, World Bulletin
The military operation France has started in Mali is unfolding in full swing, and meanwhile France has established control over three important cities in the northern part of the country. French President Hollande cheered up the French soldiers during his visit to Timbuktu last weekend. Hollande made it clear that French military is staying in the region until stability is established and announced that the operation has been successful. The welcoming ceremony organized for Hollande was identical to that of Erdogan during his visit to Niger. Joyful people and songs “Thank you Father Hollande”… Did the people of Mali betray their grandfathers who once drove French soldiers away from their land?
With these on the one hand, on the other hand there are caravans migrating to the Mauritanian border. Tuareg and Arab people have gathered all their belongings and moved to Mberra refugee camp claiming they have been living under genocide. This illustrates the tragedy of the region: if the French operation really brought stability, hundreds of thousands of refugees who found asylum in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania would rush back to their abandoned homes. But we see quite the opposite - more and more people are migrating.
Why then while one part of the people is joyous, the other part is escaping? This question doesn’t have a simple answer but it seems that the African aboriginals are those who are happy; Tuaregs, whose skin is not as dark, and people of Arabic origin are left to cry. An important part here is played by freedom propaganda in French media. And of course African curiosity about foreign guests and their hospitality must be considered too…
Considerable part of the Mali people stil believe that the French have come for their sake. Affected by the French media campaign these people say: “let them save us from Al-Q’aida… and if France wants our uranium, oil and gold, let them take it as we are unable to produce them anyway”. Others, strongly influenced by the Islamic sensitivity, alleviate themselves saying “poverty permits everything”. Mali religious leaders who have adopted the official Mali rhethorics, also play significant role in calming people down. The South of Mali is dominated by the air of resignation. Rich areas of the capital Bamako, inhabited by foreigners, mostly French, are decorated with French flags. You can easily mistake these areas for French districts. But this air is lost when it comes to the rural people. Ordinary people do not really know what is going on…
The Mali army that has entered the French-controlled cities is out of control. Human rights watch organizations have been trying to take public attention to the case for days now. Dozens of people have been arrested on the charge of assisting Islamic groups and executed with no trial. Pictures of execution wells have long been in the media. To have Islamic looking clothes and beards is a disadvantage now. People feel they must cut their beards and change their clothes.
A political process that has started in Mali in parallel with the military operation has also been on the agenda recently. Franse, now in control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal towns in the northern Mali expressed a wish to negotiate with the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) and the Mali Transitional Government. But this request has had a cold shower effect on the southern regions of Mali.
The southern regions claim that the MNLA have agreed with the Islamists on cooperation and even on splitting the country. Therefore the southerners want the struggle against the Islamic groups to include the MNLA as well and claim that the organizaiton must be eliminated. They believe the MNLA to be even more dangerous than the other Islamic groups… In the meantime France keeps forming political arena with specific maneuvres.
Over the past few days Mali newspaper headlines have been disputing the motives of Hollande and France. Probably for the first time media has openly called France’s motives into question. The question that comes to mind first is whether an autonomous-federal or an independent Tuareg state will be established under the MNLA leadership? As Mali newspapers do not have their own internet websites, it is difficult to hear voices from within. But when you are there, this voice can be heard.
The Mali Transitional Government, under the French pressure, stated that they were positive about negotiating but the MNLA demanded that the Mali army, famous for the islamist executions, should not enter the region. This demand has been partially accepted in Kidal. Control over the city was passed to the Chad military troops and the Mali army did not enter the city. The Mali Transitional Government also announced that no Islamic groups were allowed to participate in the negotiations.
Other Islamic groups whose names have been on the agenda recently, preferred moving away to small towns in the North to close fighting. This region is currently under French bombardment, and this fact concerns Algeria and Niger nearly. In case the Islamic groups infiltrate through Algerian or Niger border, America will have to join the military operation. It is expected that the groups will turn to guerilla tactics and launch targeted attacks.
France has taken three cities under control without sparing a bullet. The groups that had controlled the cities withdrew strategically and left the place to the French and Mali soldiers. But upon a closer view it is obvious that the groups have just changed their location, but their power has not diminished. While the Islamist groups only lost 2 soldiers in the joint French-Mali operation, casualties were much more numerous.
It was not difficult for France to take control over the region, but it looks like it will be hard for it to stay in control. France doesn’t trust the Mali army and African soldiers, its real intention is to pull the United Nations into the reigon. Such a call is welcomed by the UN. It will not be a big surprise if a peace corps of such countries as Pakistan, Turkey, etc. enters the region in the near future. The conflicting parties in Mali are Muslims after all…