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Ansar Dine Buys Time in Mali; Election-related Violence in Sierra Leone

Kidnapping risk high in Mali despite Ansar Dine negotiations and violence likely in the week before Sierra Leone’s polls.
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President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré led mediation talks between the Malian government and Ansar Dine. Photo courtesy of Damien Halleux Radermecker.

Mali: The risk of kidnappings to expatriates is high and increasing in Bamako in the coming weeks, in spite of mediation talks involving Islamists.

On 7 November, local media reported that the Malian government was prepared to hold peace talks with the Kidal-based jihadi group, Ansar Dine, following mediation talks led by Burkinabé President Compaoré in his country's capital, Ouagadougou.

Ansar Dine's unilateral ceasefire declaration does not lower the risk of kidnaps to expatriates, or jihadi attacks on business assets. The jihadi group is highly unlikely to compromise on the implementation of Sharia law across the north and sever ties with other Islamist groups, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), based in northern Mali. Thus, the talks are unlikely to result in concessions from either side. Their engagement in peace talks is a time-buying strategy to raise funds and recruit fighters ahead of a probable ECOWAS military intervention. Risk of opportunistic kidnap in Bamako and mining areas in the south by Islamist groups, in particular MUJAO, is high.

Sierra Leone: Fighting is increasingly likely in Bo, Kenema, Kono and Freetown ahead of 17 November elections; risk of disruption to mining is moderate.

The coming week is the final campaign week before presidential and parliamentary elections on 17 November.

On 2 November 2012, fighting took place between supporters of the opposition party, SLPP, and the ruling party, APC, in Kenema, as well as between SLPP and supporters of the PMDC (a party which broke away from SLPP) in Bo. More than five people were injured whilst the residence of the APC parliamentary candidate for Constituency 10 was attacked. There is an increasing risk of sporadic and localised fighting between SLPP and APC supporters and SLPP and PMDC supporters. Fighting is likely to take place away from the central business district. This will involve stone-throwing and the use of knives and metal pipes, raising the risk of injury to bystanders and collateral damage to nearby vehicles. The protests pose a moderate risk of disrupting mining activities.

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If Ansar Dine indeed has very little genuine interest in a negotiated solution to the crisis, there are serious implications for international action, pushing it ever-more towards a full-scale military intervention. Of course, it also means there is little chance of Ansar Dine making a serious effort to persuade other militant groups in the north to engage in dialogue.The region of Kidal, under the control of Ansar Dine, is important as a point through which fighters and others can pass from the Sahara into Mali, and so if the militants have no interest in real dialogue, this will continue to be so, and remain an important area for operations in any intervention. Furthermore, the risk of kidnap highlights the need for international assistance to Malian forces to secure the south quickly, for the security of civilians and to develop a more stable south, politically and economically, from which efforts to reunify the state can be organized and launched.