CORTE, France / Corsica (AFP) – Tuareg rebels will fight Mali's newly-elected rulers if no negotiated solution is reached to grant their northern homeland of Azawad autonomy, a senior Tuareg rebel official warned Sunday.
Moussa Ag Assarid, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad's top representative in Europe, was speaking at a forum organised by a separatist Corsican party on the French island.
"We are going to make a proposal... for an autonomy agreement with the central government in Bamako," the MNLA official said in Corte, where he was a guest speaker at a Corsa Libera forum.
"We will continue our struggle democratically but we will take up arms again if we have to," Ag Assarid said.
The MNLA launched a military offensive in January 2012 and the chaos caused by a coup in Bamako two months later soon allowed it to conquer much of what it calls Azawad, an area covering Mali's vast desert north..
The secular group was then overpowered by the Al Qaeda-linked fighters who helped it defeat the Malian army and it later sided with France when the former colonial power sent troops in to combat advancing Islamists early this year.
The MNLA has reluctantly recognised the presidential election that took place on July 28 in a bid to restore constitutional order and reunite the country. A runoff is due on August 11.
"We have no preference to express between the two second round candidates, but whoever is elected will find us on his path," Ag Assarid said.
A deal reached in Ouagadougou in June provides for the launch of an "inclusive dialogue" between Tuareg rebels and the new administration 60 days after a cabinet is formed.