Rebels in northern Mali claim control of military camp

March 13, 2012 8:49 am 

BAMAKO, March 13 — Mali's Tuareg rebels in the norther part of the West African country claims control of a military camp after gaining ground in battles with the army since January.

"We have taken control of the military camp of Tessalit. There were not many victims. We have taken dozens of prisoners. We have reinforced our position in the area," Moussa Salam, a leading member of the rebels, said in press release obtained by Xinhua on Monday.

In the morning, the Malian Defense Ministry said the rebels were attempting to prevent the army and security forces from rescuing more than 1,500 refugees taking shelter in the garrison of Tessalit in the regional of Kidal. Most of the refugees are women and children, the statement added.

The assailants are composed of fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), al-Qaida's northern African branch AQIM and drug traffickers, according to the ministry.

The Malian government says it has set up regional commissions to support the displaced people with the help of the UN refugee agency.

Tens of thousands of people fled into Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, worsening the situation of the neighboring countries facing both famine and security challenges.

Northern Mali has been the theater of deadly confrontations between the separatist MNLA and the government forces since Jan. 17. The army says it has killed more than 100 rebels.

The MNLA was formed on Oct. 16, 2011, after the regrouping of Tuareg rebels, of whom many reportedly returned from Libya with military equipment including portable missile systems. They used to be employed by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as mercenaries.

The MNLA is the latest formation of the rebel movement seeking independence of an Azawad land comprising three northern regions of Timbuktoo, Gao and Kidal.

Tuareg is a nomadic community of 1.5 million people across the southern edge of the Sahara desert, or the Sahel region, in countries like Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.

Tuareg rebels have launched repeated uprisings since Mali's independence from France in 1960. (PNA/Xinhua) RSV/mmg

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