Mali (MNN) — There's yet another peace accord with yet another rebel group in Africa.
This time it's Mali, which has been battling an insurgency since a coup in March 2012. The controversial ceasefire deal between the government and the Tuareg rebels came about and set the clock ticking for key elections in less than 40 days. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, asks, "How trustworthy are the rebels? The rebellion that was started by the Tuareg was then joined by folks linked with al Qaeda and folks linked with other radical Islamic groups."
Malians have welcomed the truce but are asking, "Is this a legitimate move toward peace? Is this a move by the government simply to try to get enough stability in place for the next two month that they can hold elections by July 28?" They're also wondering what happens to the accord in the "after" part of the election.
Even more problematic, notes Nettleton, "The deal does not include them giving up their weapons and coming into the political process." Who enforces the deal? How will it be monitored? It doesn't seem spelled out, but, he observes, people are hopeful. "As we look at the future, the good news in the short term is hopefully the two sides really will stop shooting at each other. There can be a little stability, there can be a little bit of peace."
Another worry: due to the diverse range of insurgents infesting Mali's north, what do the accords change? "This doesn't dramatically change their position from what it was 18 months ago when the rebellion started. It's hard to know what they see as the benefit of this other than simply the cessation of hostilities and hopefully some peace."
What's more, the rebels all seem to come from the same place when it comes to Christians. "We saw extremists, al Qaeda, and not just people from Mali, but foreigners coming into the area to participate in the battle, to help what they hoped would become an Islamic, Sharia nation." That means, says Nettleton, that whether the government controls the land or the rebels control the land, "Christians–and particularly anyone who would leave Islam to follow Christianity–are not going to have an easy time, regardless of who's in charge in Mali."
Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) has been observing the uptick in harassment and persecution of Christians in what is essentially a lawless time. Nettleton says, "One of the ways that we respond, in North Africa, is safe houses, places where Muslim converts can come, where they can be safe from attacks." Providing shelter from the onslaught isn't all they do. He goes on to say VOM also provides resources, as well as help, in "discipleship, training, and then eventually launches them back out into society where they can be a witness for Christ."
The spectacular failure of the alleged/non-existent ceasefire with Nigeria's Boko Haram isn't far from people's minds. In the brief respite, Nettleton urges you to pray with the believers in Mali. Pray that this peace is legitimate. Then, you can "pray for outreach that is going on. We know it's a challenge to be involved in outreach ministry in Mali. We can pray for those that are doing it, we can pray for the fields, that God will allow fruit to come even out of this difficult time, that people will look to Christ and will come to know Him."