Relations between the Malian government and Tuareg minority remained strained through 2008. The Tuareg continued to push for more self-determination, particularly in places where their traditional territory coincides with rich deposits of gold and uranium. Their desire for independence has a long history and has been intensified by years of marginalization by the government. The Tuareg report that they have been deprived of equal education opportunities and suffered discrimination, hindering their ability to get identity documents or register to vote. In 2008, the Tuareg-based human rights group Temedt, along with Anti-Slavery International, reported that 'several thousand' members of the Tuareg Bella caste remain enslaved in the Gao Region. They complain that while laws provide redress, cases are rarely resolved by Malian courts. The Tuareg in Mali have now formalized into a political movement in the form of the Alliance for Democracy and Change.

Clashes in early June 2008 in the north-west desert region of Kidal in Mali killed at least 20 Tuaregs. These followed a series of abductions by the Tuareg over the previous year. In July, a ceasefire agreement was brokered by Algeria. Further peace talks took place in August, but ex-rebel fighters continued to stir unrest in the north and the government tried to carry out a crackdown on militia groups in the area. In September, IRIN reported that Mali officials had arrested dozens of suspects in the Ganda Izo militia, or 'children of the earth', including its leader Amadou Diallo, who had fled to neighbouring Niger and was arrested there.

In November, the rebels, part of the Alliance for Democracy and Change, met two government ministers in the north-eastern Kidal region, in a bid to restart a peace process. However, in December Reuters reported that the Tuaregs killed at least 14 Malian soldiers in an attack on an army post close to Mali's border with Mauritania.

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