19 January 2012

Mali: 47 Die in Clashes Between Troops, Rebels - Ministry

Two days of fierce clashes between the Malian army and Tuareg rebels have killed 47 people -- 45 rebels and two soldiers, the west African nation's defence ministry said in a statement published Thursday.

"The attackers suffered heavy losses," the statement said of fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday in three northern towns, adding that several others were injured.

The Tuareg rebels had launched an offensive to seize several towns in the desert region where the nomadic tribe seeks autonomy.

Mali's government said the attackers are members of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) formed in late 2011, and boosted by the return of heavily armed Tuareg rebels from Libya's conflict.

The Tuareg are demanding independence for their vast desert region, the Azawad, which stretches from the west to the north of Mali.

A nomadic community of some 1.5 million people, Tuareg of various tribes are scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.

Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000 with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.

After these rebellions many fighters left for Libya where they were integrated into Kadhafi's security forces. After his fall they returned to northern Mali, particularly the Azawad region between Timbuktu and Kidal. - ANP/AFP

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