Condemnation by the French defense ministry of the duplicity of Supreme Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA), one of the main rebel groups that signed Mali peace agreement last year, has been received with mixed reactions among Mali observers.
"What is worrying us and it has frankly began annoying us, is the doublespeak by HCUA. It is one of the signatories of the Mali peace agreements, but from time to time, it has clearly not hidden its closeness to jihadists like Iyad Ag Ghali who leads Ansar Dine terror group," the French defense ministry said in a statement issued last week.
Although for some, it was time that France saw the reality on the ground, for others, the condemnation will not change anything as France will continue providing support to the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), to which HCUA belongs.
The Malian government has not yet responded to the French statement, but a source from the national reconciliation ministry who spoke to Xinhua, said "it was good France was seeing the connection between terrorist networks and some armed groups that have blocked implementation of the peace agreement that they signed."
Most analysts observed that France's condemnation of HCUA's duplicity was more clear than that of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
"Is it a signal of the breakdown of relations with HCUA? Or is it simply a declaration of war with HCUA," some wondered.
"It seems the problem is much deeper and France seems to have evidence that most observers have had for a long time; the military force belonged to Ansar Dine and not to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) that was being protected by France," said Abdourhamane Dicko, an independent expert on security and development issues.
According to other experts, it seems Iyad is the sole master in the northern Mali desert where the governmental authority has not been fully felt since 1990s.
"Today, this situation demands that we must seek real solutions with real actors, meaning that we must have the courage to involve Iyad in the peace process," Dicko said.
The source at Mali's national reconciliation ministry says "France should not limit itself to condemning HCUA's duplicity, but it should take concrete actions, such as helping the Malian armed forces and administration to be deployed all over the country, especially in the north."
"Even though the Malian state has not established its sovereignty in Kidal, the peace process remains threatened by acts of sabotage from terrorist networks," the same source said.
However, according to Le Berger, a Malian columnist, "the condemnation of HCUA's duplicity by Paris was simply a smoke-screen by France to push for the extension of MINUSMA's mandate during the Security Council meeting on June 29 this year.
"Otherwise, who does not know that HCUA has always been funded by Iyad," Le Berger who is a native of northern Mali posed.
HCUA was one of the dissident groups of Ansar Dine, a terrorist group that controlled northern Mali until the French Serval operation was launched in 2013, and which is led by Iyad Ag Ghali, a veteran leader of the Touareg rebels.
In a report published in March 2016, MINUSMA said HCUA had between 400 and 600 fighters. Security sources believe the group is militarily and financially funded by a very powerful group in Kidal region.
According to a number of observers, the intentions of HCUA leaders have always remained unclear. But what is clear is that the group still works with Ansar Dine group.