Welcome Azawad - new Islamist state

The small African country of Mali has been forcibly split in two, as rebels in the north have broken off and formed a new Islamic state - Azawad.


Two key rebel movements in Mali have agreed to join forces, saying together they will rule an independent Islamic state.

The Tuareg group MNLA and the Islamist group Ansar Dine occupying northern Mali reached the deal after a series of talks, according to both groups.

Gunfire was heard in two major towns in the region -- Gao and Timbuktu -- as militants celebrated their decision to form a body to oversee Azawad. Several weeks ago, rebels declared independence for the region, the cradle of their nomadic civilization.

But not everyone celebrated the news Sunday. Some who come from the region occupied by rebels said the separatist and Islamist movements do not have the people's support.

"The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, MNLA, have proclaimed an independent state, Azawad," MNLA colonel Abdou Haidara announced.

The movements reached their agreement in Gao, a town in the north where leaders have been meeting.

Hassan Ag Mohamad, a former Ansar Dine official, said the two groups are now one. "Before we were Ansar Dine and MNLA. Now it's all the same."

As gunfire rang out Saturday evening, people afraid of clashes between the two movements immediately returned to their homes.

"I was very afraid when they started shooting, and it was only later I realized the militants were celebrating," said Gao resident Haraji Baber.

An hour later came reports of shooting from Timbuktu, one of the three major towns in what the rebels call Azawad.

The agreement between the secular Tuareg and the Islamists comes after weeks of sometimes heated discussions between two movements, separated both in their objectives and ideologies. While the MNLA is fighting for an independent Azawad, Ansar Dine's main objective is to impose Sharia law in all of Mali.

Sounds like a garden spot:

In the besieged towns, drinking, smoking, listening to music, watching soccer on TV and playing video games have been banned in what now seems to be a preparation for the creation of an Islamic state.

The Islamists are supported by "al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)" who moved right in and made themselves at home along with the Ansar Dine. They appear to be the senior partners in the coaliton although in fighting will probably continue.

I guess the old song "Kalamazoo to Timbuktu" is going to need some new lyrics.

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