The first gathering of Arab tribes from the greater Azawad region wrapped up Tuesday (June 5th) in the south-eastern Mauritanian town of N'Beiket Lahouach.
The goal of the three-day conference was to reach a unified position within the Arab community of northern Mali on the expulsion of al-Qaeda from their areas, as well as whether to support the Islamic state unilaterally declared by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in association with Ansar al-Din.
Hundreds of tribal sheiks, military officers and intellectuals from Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Saudi Arabia, Mali and Mauritania, representing some 120 tribes from Azawad Arabs
attended the event.
A group of participants that included the National Front for the Liberation of Azawad (FNLA), the main organiser of the conference, backed the breakaway state while a group of youths who arrived from Bamako preferred to remain part of Mali.
"Most Arabs in the Azawad region who joined the FNLA have adopted the demand of independence of the Azawad state," FNLA and conference spokesperson Mohamed Mouloud Ould Ramzan told Magharebia. "We will seek world recognition and support, and we've already formed a political bureau under the leadership of Ahmed Ould Sidi Mohamed."
"This bureau will start garnering the support of all Azawad residents, whether Arabs, Touaregs or Songhai," he added. "As to the formation of a military force to confront al-Qaeda and expel it from Timbuktu, this will be resolved in the next days."
The Azawad Arabs conference was held under tents just 30 kilometres away from the Malian border where al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and allied armed groups are active.
The gathering saw tight security measures, with Mauritanian authorities surrounding the area and thoroughly checking the identities of participants, according to Sayed Ahmed Ould Abdul Qadir, a journalist and Azawad Arab activist.
"Our goal is to reach a position that would express our views because we have become the victim of a conflict between two bitter enemies - the Malian state on the one hand and Touaregs and terrorist groups on the other hand," explained Ould Ramzan, the conference spokesperson.
"Meanwhile, all of these developments are taking place on our own land, in Timbuktu and its suburbs. The terrorist groups have even become the main spokesperson in our lives," he said.
"We reject the unilateral decision of independence which was declared by Touaregs groups," he added. "We also realise that the Malian state no longer exists in the region. Therefore, we want to come up with a compromise position represented in securing an autonomy that guarantees us independence in running our land."
He concluded by discussing their position on al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din, which recruit some members from Azawad Arabs.
"We've started forming a military force and we're about to consolidate it. The goal is to expel these terrorist groups that came to our land from outside it, and to restore our city, Timbuktu, and control it either peacefully or by force," the FNLA spokesperson said. He added that it would "only be done through the armament of our young people and supplying them with the necessary logistical means".
"As to our sons who embrace the ideology of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din, they only represent 1% and we don't consider them to be Azawad Arabs," the Ould Ramzan said.