March 23 (Bloomberg) -- An ethnic Touareg uprising in Mali, driven by fighters returning from Libya, prompted soldiers to overthrow the government that tasked them with quashing the rebellion.
The Azawad National Liberation Movement began a revolt in January, opening fire on military targets in northwestern Africa where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has attacked troops and kidnapped foreigners in recent years. Before its ouster yesterday, Mali’s government accused the Touareg group, known by its French acronym MNLA, of working with al-Qaeda and regional drug traffickers.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, moving to other areas of Mali and to neighboring countries including Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, to escape the violence between the MNLA and the army, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The coup in the country that vies with Tanzania to be Africa’s third-biggest gold producer sparked a 13 percent drop in the shares of Randgold Resources Ltd.
“Unlike previous rebellions, the current Touareg uprising has been difficult to put down because of the influx of weapons and war-hardened fighters from Libya,” Robert Borthwick, senior analyst at the risk-analysis group Maplecroft, based in the English city of Bath, said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday. “The soldiers clearly feel that improved military planning and spending is necessary to prevent the Touareg rebellion further escalating and taking the lives of more of their colleagues.”
The mutinous soldiers, who announced they were seizing power on state-owned television, began firing shots earlier in the day as they were due to meet with the country’s defense minister about the northern uprising. They blocked roads leading to the presidential palace and took over the country’s airport and broadcaster. Troops have now been ordered back to barracks by their commanders and a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew has been imposed.
“Facing our duty to safeguard the constitution, we decided to take our responsibilities in ending the incompetent regime” of President Amadou Toure, said Lieutenant Amadou Konare, a spokesman for the soldiers, on state television early yesterday. The constitution had been suspended, he said.
The military will continue to fight the Touareg rebels and the al-Qaeda operatives, Captain Amadou Sanogo, the head of the transitional council, the military body that says it has taken over the role of government, said today.
Randgold’s shares dropped for a second day, falling 4 percent to 5,535 pence by 3:46 p.m. in London. Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow said the company’s mines are unaffected. Randgold operates Loulo, a mine 367 kilometers (228 miles) north west of Bamako, and holds a stake in the Morila venture, 203 kilometers southeast of the capital. The government and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. own the rest.
Mali-focused Australian miner Resolute Mining Ltd. fell 5.8 percent in Sydney while Golden Rim Resources declined 4.7 percent today. South Africa’s Gold Fields Ltd. resumed drilling at its Yanfolila deposit after a one-day suspension. Mali produced about 44 metric tons of gold in 2011.
The Taoudeni basin, where the MNLA is seeking autonomy, may contain reserves of crude oil, according to Lassana Guindo, the national director of geology and mining. Petroplus Africa Ltd. and Simba Energy Inc. are among the companies that have signed deals to search for crude in Mali. The basin has 25 oil blocks, with 13 under exploration, Guindo said on March 13. Simba shares fell 5.3 percent in Toronto yesterday.
Traditionally nomadic camel herders, Touaregs have staged similar battles for autonomy in Mali and neighboring Niger in the five decades since the countries became independent from colonial ruler France. The current uprising, in an area that includes the historic trading city of Timbuktu, is bolstered by Touaregs who returned from Libya after the October death of leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to the United Nations.
The Libyan crisis has “exacerbated an already precarious security situation in the Sahel region,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a Jan. 18 report to the Security Council, referring to the area south of the Sahara desert. Weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles, including anti-aircraft artillery and explosives, were smuggled into Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, according to the report.
Some of the estimated 2,000 Touareg rebels who have returned from Libya had been high-ranking officers in the Libyan army, Lynn Pascoe, UN under-secretary for political affairs, told reporters yesterday in New York. By joining forces with the rebellion in Mali, they “added much more firepower and drive to this operation,” Pascoe said.
The MNLA said they captured the town of Anefis after a battalion of government troops withdrew to the northern city of Gao, according to a statement on its website.
“The military coup d’etat in Mali does not change the dynamic of the Azawad National Liberation Movement, which advocates self determination of Azawad with no conditions and its independence from Mali,” the MNLA said in the statement.
Mali was due to hold a presidential election on April 29, with Toure set to step down after serving two terms in office. The leader had vowed to quash the Touareg rebellion before next month’s vote.
The MNLA denied that it has any connection with al-Qaeda’s northwestern African unit, according to its website. AQIM has taken responsibility for a rise in kidnappings in the vast region, including attacks in Algeria, Niger and Mauritania.
“According to some reports, there are family ties between some members of the Touareg rebellion and those involved in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” said Benjamin Soares, a Mali expert who lectures at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. He said estimates have put AQIM membership at just 300. “Most involved in AQIM are probably from Algeria but some are said to have married locally into Malian families,” he said.
The African Union suspended Mali and called for the reinstatement of Toure as president. He is still in the country and is being protected by “loyalists,” said AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today.
The Economic Community of West African States also condemned the coup. On March 20, the AU held a Peace and Security Council meeting on the Touareg uprising in Bamako and called for a cessation of fighting.
The conflict has “aggravated an already precarious situation, created a humanitarian crisis, including the displacement of populations within Mali and to neighboring countries, and undermined development efforts,” the council said in the March 20 statement.
In parts of landlocked Mali, especially in the north, as much as 70 percent of the population is facing “acute food insecurity” with a lack of drinking water and animal feed, said Souleymane Sana, assistant country director for Oxfam Novib, the Dutch arm of the non-profit organization, by phone from Bamako yesterday. “The food crisis has been exacerbated by the growing insecurity in the region, first with kidnappings by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and now by the Touareg uprising.”
Oxfam Novib’s program to distribute staple foods including sorghum and cooking oil has been suspended and staff have been told to stay at home, Sana said.
The Malian insurgency is worsening a food-security crisis that threatens 15 million people in seven countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Mali’s “dependence on international donors and foreign investors will create pressure for polls to be held relatively rapidly,” said Maplecroft’s Borthwick. “If the coup leaders are able to secure effective power, they would be likely to increase military spending to combat the heavily armed Touareg rebels.”
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