The Swiss authorities have denied allegations that diplomatic passports were given to leaders of the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) based in northern Mali, stating that such claims are “absurd and unfounded.”
A Malian umbrella organisation, the Collectif pour la Défense de la République (CDR), whose members include a number of associations linked to the government in Bamako, said on Saturday that France and Switzerland were providing passports to Tuareg leaders.
CDR spokesman Mohamed Youssouph Bathily claimed that “two thirds of the NMLA leaders” had been given diplomatic papers.
The statement comes amid a national campaign led by the CDR since the beginning of the month to boycott Swiss and French products in Mali to protest the alleged support of the two countries for the secessionist rebels. The CDR is also trying to drum up support among Malians living abroad.
“Switzerland has never given a diplomatic passport to NMLA members,” said a Swiss foreign ministry spokesman. “Such assertions are totally absurd and unfounded.”
According to Bathily, Switzerland has also granted the NMLA leaders refugee status while trying to isolate the Malian government on the international scene. “Their goal is to force the government to recognise or give [the secessionists] the right to self-determination,” he added.
He also accused the NMLA of being the instrument of France and Switzerland, who want to help companies they support gain a toehold in northern Mali. He did admit though that Switzerland had no direct economic interest there.
For the Swiss foreign ministry, “Switzerland has no other interest in Mali other than to promote peace and reconciliation among the country’s inhabitants. Switzerland supports a free, democratic Mali that respects its minorities.”
Switzerland helps notably provide humanitarian support to Malian refugees in neighbouring countries and has taken part in mediation efforts to end civil war.
“Switzerland’s commitment in favour of dialogue in Mali has always been at the behest of all parties involved, and will continue to be so,” pointed out the ministry spokesman.
The NLMA launched a rebellion in northern Mali in January 2012. It took control of much of the region and declared independence, but was forced to retreat after its Islamist allies turned on it.
In June last year, a peace deal was signed between the government and the Tuareg group. However, in September it fell apart after the NLMA claimed the government failed to respect its commitments.