* Senior MLNA members call deal off, object to sharia
* Split emerges between MNLA French- and Arab-speakers
* Ansar Dine says deal "irrevocable"
(Adds more MNLA, Ansar Dine reaction; switches dateline)
By Adama Diarra and Laurent Prieur
BAMAKO/NOUAKCHOTT, June 1 Top members of
Tuareg-led Malian rebel group MNLA ditched on Friday a week-old
pact with al Qaeda-linked Islamists to turn the country's north
into an Islamic state, saying it contravened their secular
However one representative of the Islamist group, Ansar
Dine, told Reuters that the accord was irrevocable and brushed
off their rejection as "the view of a few individuals".
The West African country has been in chaos since separatist
MNLA, which wants an independent state it calls Azawad, seized
the desert north in early April with the backing of Ansar Dine,
whose goal is to impose sharia, Islamic law, across all Mali.
The confusion both in the north and the southern capital
Bamako, still recovering from a March 22 military coup, has
prompted fears of the emergence of a new "rogue state" acting as
a safe haven for terror activity.
"The political wing, the executive wing of the MNLA, faced
with the intransigence of Ansar Dine on applying sharia in
Azawad and in line with its resolutely secular stance, denounce
the accord with this organisation and declare all its
dispositions null and void," said a statement issued by Hama Ag
Mahmoud, a senior MNLA political figure.
The emailed statement said it was issued in the name of the
MNLA as a whole but it was not immediately possible to verify
whether this was now the official stance of the rebel group. The
deal was also denounced in a separate statement by Magdi Ag
Bohada, another senior member of its political wing.
In an open letter posted on Berber website Tamazgha.fr, the
MNLA's communication director Mossa Ag Attaher acknowledged "a
growing malaise" in the ranks of the group linked to a feud
between its French-speaking and Arab-speaking factions.
While Attaher did not elaborate, the linguistic split could
partly reflect divisions between those rebels who have remained
in the former French colony and those who were based in Libya
until the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
"The application of sharia and the Arabisation of our people
is a grave violation of our culture and identity," he said of a
region in which nomadic Tuaregs have co-existed with other
ethnic groups and where moderate Islam is widely practised.
It was not immediately possible to contact other leading
MNLA members. But a senior military official for Ansar Dine
contacted in the northern city of Gao said the well-armed group
continued to apply the agreement.
"The pact signed by the MNLA and Ansar Dine is irrevocable.
The views of a few individuals within the MNLA cannot put this
fusion in doubt. In any case, we are the majority in control of
all three of Mali's northern regions," Oumar Ould Hamama told
Reuters by telephone from the northern city of Gao.
The MNLA and Ansar Dine had in past weeks reached an often
tense accommodation carving up control of key regional centres
such as Gao, Kidal and the ancient trading city of Timbuktu.
Locals have protested against efforts by Ansar Dine to
enforce a strict dress code and to impose sharia punishments on
those found drinking alcohol or watching television.
Ansar Dine's ties to local al Qaeda fighters who have been
responsible for a series of kidnappings of Westerners in the
region have raised fears in the West. France has urged the
African Union to refer the crisis to the U.N. Security Council.
The MNLA's declaration of Azawad independence has been
ignored internationally - although before the tie-up with Ansar
Dine, some countries recognised a need for dialogue on some of
their grievances against the southern capital in Bamako.
But neither a political resolution nor military intervention
is imminent, particularly as Mali's transition back to civilian
rule was put in doubt last month when the caretaker president
was beaten up during a crowd invasion of his palace.
Dioncounda Traore is still recovering in France after the
attack and has not said when he is due to return.
(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Louise Ireland)