BAMAKO — Disagreements between Tuareg and Islamists rebels over the creation of a breakaway state in northern Mali persist as they fail to agree on the implementation of Islamic law, the Tuaregs said Tuesday.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) published a statement on their website saying a merger deal signed on May 26 was being studied by each camp.
"A commission will be established to deal with the differences on the pending issues," read the statement signed by MNLA secretary general Bilal Ag Acherif.
The statement did not outline the disagreements but both parties have said they do not agree on the implementation of sharia, which caused a brief merger between the two groups to fall apart.
"With the help of experts, the two delegations are continuing talks in (the northern city) Gao to discuss elements such as sharia," a member of the Islamist Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) Moussa Ag Cherif, told AFP.
The rival groups, who seized main cities in northern Mali after a March 22 coup in the southern capital Bamako, hold separate ideologies and objectives and the relationship has been an uneasy one.
Mossa Ag Attaher, a Paris-based MNLA spokesman, told AFP Friday they had "accepted the idea of an Islamic State but it should have been written that we will practise a moderate and tolerant Islam, with no mention of sharia.
He added the Tuaregs would not give up on their aim of an autonomous state of Azawad, their name for their homeland in northern Mali, an area larger than France.
Ansar Dine has said it will not budge on the issue of Islamic law which it is already enforcing, forcing women to wear veils and cracking down on bars and smoking.
Ansar Dine members reportedly violently dispersed a demonstration by around 50 women and children in the city of Kidal as they rallied against the Islamists, a local resident said.
"Around 50 women and children marched today from the stadium to the main Kidal market against the Islamists," said Abubacar Seydou Diarra, a teacher whose description of the events was confirmed by other residents.
"Some of them chanted in the local language ... 'We don't want strangers here,' 'We don't want Islamists here.' Men in three pick-ups that had the Ansar Dine flag intervened and beat the demonstrators," he said.
The city is the hometown of Ansar Dine chief Iyad Ag Ghaly and has become a stronghold for the group since falling under its control in late March.
While the rebellion that led to the seizure of the north of the country was started by the Tuareg, who have long sought autonomy, a coup by overwhelmed soldiers in Bamako left the north open to other rebel groups such as Ansar Dine who quickly swooped in and took the upper hand.
The MNLA statement also said it would establish a "provisional council to lead the country" -- referring to Azawad -- which would lead to the setting up of a unity government.
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