On 15 October 2011, around 400 Tuaregs who fought for Colonel Gaddafi in Libya returned to Mali’s northeastern region of Kidal. These tribesmen included mercenaries recruited during the 2011 insurgency in Libya and others who joined the Libyan Army after the 1990-1995 Tuareg rebellion in Mali. Concerned about the security implications, the government set up returnee camps at Takallote, 35 km from the city of Kidal, pledged resources to facilitate their socio-economic reintegration and entered into disarmament negotiations with the leaders of the disparate groups involved. However, the failure of some of these negotiations, resulting in the deployment of elite Army counterinsurgency units in the north, particularly around Gao and Menaka, and tribal rivalries within the Tuareg community, are increasing the risk of a new Tuareg rebellion.
The risk of a renewed insurgency has also been heightened by the likelihood that some of the weapons looted from Libya are in Tuareg hands, and by revenue from lucrative smuggling routes in northern Mali, controlled by competing Tuareg groups. In the event of a renewed insurgency, Army and government assets would be the primary targets; however, foreign assets, including oil exploration and mining operations, would also be at risk. The Algerian company Sonatrach, operating in the Taoudeni basin in the north, is most at risk, particularly given Algeria’s increasing heavy-handed approach to its own Tuareg rebels and smugglers, as well as Tuareg opposition to Algerian investment plans in northern Mali’s resource sectors. The risk of kidnap and extortion to foreign operators throughout the north would also rise significantly.
The Tuareg have long-standing hostile relations with the government, due to grievances over the lack of investment and their aspirations for greater autonomy. Despite the launch of a development programme for the north in August 2011, distrust is high, particularly as the plan also provided for additional Army deployments. Furthermore, rivalries among the three main Tuareg tribes have intensified, with the Ifogha and Chamanamasse competing with the Imghad. This rivalry has been triggered by the government’s preferential treatment of the Imghad, who it relied on to suppress the 2006-2009 rebellion led by an Ifogha commander. Returnee fighters from the Ifoghas and Chamanamasse tribes have established their own camps outside government supervision, and often heavily-armed, in the mountainous Adrar des Ifoghas area between Kidal and the Algerian border. They, particularly a group led by Ifogha commander, Mohamed Najim, are unlikely to agree to disarm, unless the government agrees to integrate them fully in the Army
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