Heavy fighting in north Mali between Tuaregs, army

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2012 11:54 AM
Heavy fighting in north Mali between Tuaregs, army

Heavy fighting took place in the north of Mali as armed forces tried to reach a town surrounded by Tuareg rebels, a Malian armed forces official said Thursday.

Col. Idrissa Traore said there was fighting around the town of Tessalit on Wednesday and the operation is ongoing. He did not give casualty figures and would not confirm whether troops sent to reinforce the town had made it to the military camp there.

A spokesman for the Tuareg rebels said the Malian forces had not managed to reach Tessalit.

"Our forces managed to separate the contingents on their way to Tessalit and forced them into retreat," Moussa Ag Assarid told the Associated Press by phone from Paris.

Ag Assarid said the rebels had not suffered any losses. He said, however, Tuareg rebels had killed a number of Malian soldiers and destroyed a number of vehicles.

"It's very possible there is going to be further fighting soon," Ag Assarid added.

Malian forces have been trying to get reinforcements to the town of Tessalit since Tuaregs started attacking towns in the north of Mali in mid-January. The town is of strategic importance as its military base is one of the largest in northern Mali. There is also an airport there.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Bamako confirmed Thursday that a U.S. military aircraft dropped food to the population of Tessalit on Feb. 14.

"We dropped food for a population of about 2,000 who were in distress," said Megan Larson-Kone of the U.S. Embassy in Bamako. "There was enough food dropped to provide for at least several days." she said.

The Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, is fighting for the independence of northern Mali, a region it refers to as the Azawad.

The NMLA argues that the north of Mali is culturally and geographically disctinct from the south. The group also accuses the Malian government of not doing enough to promote development in the north.

Tuaregs in Mali have risen up against Mali's central government a number of times since Mali gained independence from France in 1960.

Since the start of the most recent fighting in January, dozens of Malian troops and rebel fighters have been killed and the United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been displaced.