North Africa Theater
As tens of thousands of activists from around the world converge on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the annual anti-globalization confab, the country is facing a pending peckage of austerity measures as the condition of a $1.78 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund—two years after economic misery sparked an uprising in the country that unleashed the Arab Revolutions. "We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy," Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia's constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera. "It seems they have forgotten our history." (Al Jazeera, March 26)
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)
Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, cousin of Moammar Qaddafi, was arrested at his home March 19 in central Cairo by Libyan forces. The arrest of Qaddaf al-Dam coincides with the second anniversary start of the air campaign in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that assisted rebels in toppling Qaddafi's regime. Qaddaf al-Dam, who is said to have beeb a trusted accomplice of the former leader, has said he plans on filing a complaint with the Egyptian public prosecutor and Libyan authorities. The Egyptian-controlled Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that Libyan authorities will gain control of al-Dam and plan on prosecuting him. The specific charges faced by Qaddaf al-Dam are still unknown.
Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.
Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know. Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive. This is incorrect. The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves. The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali.
Under an agreement signed Jan. 30 in the port of Agadir, 1,400 US Marines and 900 Moroccan soldiers will join in April on the North African country's Atlantic coast for a training exercise dubbed "African Lion." The joint forces will land more than 200 vehicles at Agadir and advance with weapons and equipment 300 kilometers before returning to the starting point where they will disassemble the equipment for re-embarkation within 24 hours. The forces will deploy long-range missiles that can reach targets more than 60 kilometers away accurately—a first for an exercise involving Morocco.