Fighting has broken out across northern Mali as ethnic Tuareg rebels, recently returned from fighting in Libya, attempt to “flush out” Malian troops. A rebel spokesman says they plan to capture a number of towns across the region.
Clashes were reported in several towns, including the key town of Menaka, near the border with Niger. The Malian Army has increased its presence in the region in anticipation of the battles intensifying. US-backed Mali and neighboring Mauritania have already been battling an al-Qaeda-branded insurgency.
A number of the Tuareg fighters have recently returned from Libya, where they were employed as mercenaries for the Gadhafi regime in the lead-up to the NATO attack on that country. Many are said to have returned with their weapons, and moved straight into fighting for autonomy from Malian authority.
The fighters aim “to free the people of Azawad from the illegal occupation of its territory,” said a press release from the Northern Mali Tuareg Movement. The Azawad is an area of northern Africa inhabited primarily by the Tuareg, under the dominion of several nation-states. Most Tuareg live inside Mali, making up roughly 7 percent of the country’s population.
With a strong emphasis on warrior culture, a well-armed Tuareg rebellion could pose a serious problem for Mali’s rulers.
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