Cablegate: Kidnapping and Liberation of Kounta Leader
DE RUEHBP #0052/01 0321122
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 011122Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BAMAKO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1080
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0717
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 0314
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK//DOAM//
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 BAMAKO 000052
EO 12958 DECL: 01/29/2020
TAGS PTER, KCRM, PINS, PGOV, ML
SUBJECT: KIDNAPPING AND LIBERATION OF KOUNTA LEADER
ILLUMINATES POLITICAL FISSURES IN NORTH
Classified By: Political Counselor Peter Newman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Summary: In the early morning of Jan 22, Kounta traditional chief and Mayor of Anafis Baba ould Sidi Elmoctar was kidnapped from his residence in Anafis in theKidal region. POL sources concur that Telemsi Arab smugglers kidnapped the octogenarian leader as a reprisal for an ambush ould Sidi Elmoctar’s son led against a joint Telemsi/Imghad drug smuggling caravan. The Kounta are one of the traditionally important tribes of northern Mali. His kidnapping had the possibility of escalating a simmering conflict over smuggling routes to open warfare between the Telemsi and Imghad communities on one side and the Kounta and Ifoghas on the other. The GOM sent a delegation to negotiate and successfully secured ould Sidi ElMoctar’s release, avoiding a broader conflict for the time being. End summary.
2. (S) On Friday, Jan 22 before dawn, Telemsi Arab and Imghad Tuareg smugglers kidnapped octogenarian and diabetic Kounta traditional chief Baba ould Sidi Elmoctar from his residence. The Malian press has characterized this incident as a settling of scores between rival drug smugglers. Both POL contacts and the Malian press reported an ambush of a drug caravan in Kidal region during the week of Jan 10-16. The smugglers reportedly were Telemsi Arabs and Imghad Tuaregs. The group that ambushed the caravan was reportedly led by the son of ould Sidi Elmoctar and was comprised of Kounta Arab and Ifoghas Tuareg fighters. POL contacts have said the caravan was carrying five truck-mountable automatic weapons and cocaine. Estimates of the size of the cargo range wildly from several kilograms to several tons of cocaine.
3. (S) Northern Malian communities generally viewed the kidnapping of ould Sidi Elmoctar as disrespectful and dangerous to the relative calm experienced in northern Mali at present. One contact commented this is the first time in almost twenty years such a prominent tribal leader has been kidnapped. The last incident was in 1993, when now Malian Army Colonel Elhedji ag Gamou kidnapped Attaher ag Intallah, the overall chief of the Ifoghas Tuareg clan of Kidal. PolFSN, who is a Tuareg from Kidal, commented that the two events cannot be equated in severity because the context is totally different. Attaher ag Intallah was kidnapped during a period of open warfare in the north, while the kidnapping of ould Sidi Elmoctar was a greater affront as it occured during ostensibly a time of peace, ongoing smuggling and political conflicts notwithstanding.
4. (S) On Monday, Jan 25, the GOM sent a delegation comprised of Minister of Culture Mohamed Elmoctar, Malian Army Colonel Abderhamane ould Meydou, Tarkint Mayor Baba ould Choueck, and Malian Gendarmerie Colonel Guichma to negotiate the release of ould Sidi Elmoctar. All members are Telemsi Arabs except Guichma, who is Songhai. A former DGSE (Malian intelligence agency) director told PolCouns he believed the mission was so promptly dispatched because the risks of broader conflict were high as a result of the kidnapping. On Jan 27, the kidnappers released ould Sidi Elmoctar in Gao, after two days of successful negotiations and strong social pressure opposing the kidnapping.
5. (S) Although the consensus opinion is the kidnapping was a reprisal for an ambush and theft of contraband, POL contacts believe this event is indicative of a trend toward greater inter-tribal conflict in northern Mali, and thus, is of greater import. Two POL contacts specifically commented that northern Mali is quickly splitting into two political camps: one allied with the Telemsi Arab and Imghad Tuareg communities of Gao Region, and the other allied with the Kounta Arab and Ifoghas Tuareg communities of Kidal Region. These two camps are now formalizing their political existence as the Kounta/Ifoghas led “Reseau de Plaidoyer” and the Telemsi/Imghad “Forces du Changement.”
6. (S) By way of background, the Kounta and Ifoghas have been the traditional leaders of the Tuareg and Arab communities of northern Mali for the past century and a half. The Telemsi and Imghad have been under their tutelage. Part of the current friction arises from the arrival of a form of democracy to northern Mali in recent years, with allegations arising that the Telemsi, among other groups that have
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traditionally been smugglers/traders, are using their wealth to buy elections (particularly in the April 2009 communal elections) and are using the means of the state to usurp traditional authority in northern Mali (see reftel). If this conflict were to leave the confines of proxy battles via smuggling and elections, and enter the realm of outright warfare, it would not be the first instance: the Telemsi and Kounta communities engaged in a protracted conflict in the early-2000s. BARLERIN