War against terror in Sahara intensifies: 75.000 soldiers are supposed to track down 300 Terrorists

Tuareg fear militarization!

The Tuareg who inhabit the Sahara are concerned about the intensified war against terror in the desert-areas of North West Africa. "The Tuareg are afraid that more weapons and reinforced troops might destabilize the region more than they could help to secure peace," the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) stated in Göttingen on Tuesday. At the end of last week, the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania met in Bamako (Mali) and decided to send up to 75.000 soldiers to war against terrorism by the "Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQMI).

"This anti-terror strategy is implausible, adventurous and of potential danger for the Tuareg who traditionally inhabit the Sahara," says the STP's expert on questions regarding Africa, Ulrich Delius. "More than 10.000 soldiers were already sent out against the AQMI, but have been quite ineffective, because leading officers of all four Sahara-States are involved in dealing with weapons, drugs and African migrants. Therefore, they have no interest in an effective control of the AQMI. "Also, they were hopelessly disadvantaged due to lack of local knowledge, as the AQMI is supported by the local Arab population.

"If 75.000 soldiers – who are unfamiliar with the Sahara – are now sent out to track down about 300 AQMI-fighters, there will be even more attacks on Tuareg civilians," warned Delius. Algeria and Mauritania have also announced to secure their borders to neighboring Mali by 5.000 additional soldiers. Some regions of northern Mali are considered to be a retreat area for the AQMI, but the security measures would severely limit the Tuareg's freedom of movement when crossing borders. The borders, which were drawn by colonial powers on the drawing board, cut right through the traditional habitat of the Tuareg.

The STP also fears that the military presence will scare off foreign tourists, causing tourism in this region to collapse completely. Many Tuareg make a living as tour guides or by selling artisan craft to tourists. Because of recent kidnappings and security warnings by foreign embassies, tourism in northern Mali has been reduced by more than 50 percent since 2009. In January 2010, two French tourists who had been kidnapped, were killed in a failed rescue operation. In September 2010, another four French citizens were captured in Niger and are being held hostage by the AQMI since then.

From the STP's point of view, only the Tuareg would be able to deal with the AQMI effectively, as they are familiar with the mountainous terrain and its caves. "But the countries bordering the Sahara refuse to accept this. They fear that armed Tuareg fighters might also turn against the respective governments to demand more help and more rights for the neglected regions they inhabit."