A Tuareg rebel group and an Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group have announced the formation of an independent Islamic state in northern Mali, following a coup in March.
The Australian reports the groups said:
"The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Tuareg MNLA) proclaim their dissolution in Azawad (northern Mali)."
The groups have been de facto controlling the region for the past two months, and have now announced their merger into what they called the "transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad".
Despite major differences in world view between the two groups, the secular Tuareg independence movement and the Islamist Ansar Ad-Dine, negotiations led up to the announcement.
The Tuaregs have long complained of ill-treatment by the Black African majority in southern Mali. The history of the region where the Sahara Desert meets the well-watered region to the south, which is historically the home of Black African people, has been one of conflict, with Tuaregs historically being slave-takers and the Black people taken across the Sahara as slaves.
The BBC points out that the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has been a secular grouping and has not previously been linked to Islamist principles such as Shari’ah, that is, Islamic Law.
The Ansar Dine takes its name from mobile Arab warriors, the Ansar, who contributed greatly to early Muslim victories in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries.
The Malian government, meanwhile, has rejected the Independence proclamation, according to Al Jazeera. A spokesman of the embattled Mali government said:
"The government of Mali categorically rejects the idea of the creation of an Azawad state, even more so of an Islamic state, though this state creation is just on paper and not de facto, we are coming forward to stress that Mali is secular and will remain secular."
Over 300,000 people have fled the region since the rebels took over and the African regional bloc, ECOWAS, said it is preparing 3,000 troops to help the Malian government. However, no date has been given for an ECOWAS involvement.
An ECOWAS spokesman said the territorial integrity of Mali was “not negotiable”.
The historic town of Timbuktu recently fell to the rebels, and the government of Mali is in disarray and not in any position to eject the rebels.