Fighting breaks out between northern Mali rebels

AP News
Posted: Jun 13, 2012 10:15 AM
Fighting breaks out between northern Mali rebels

Fighting broke out Wednesday between secular and Islamist rebels who are vying for control of northern Mali, leaving at least three people wounded after a shootout that underlines the growing tensions in the region.

Oumar Ould Hamaha, a fighter with the Islamist group known as Ansar Dine, told The Associated Press that a group of armed rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad had tried to enter the city of Timbuktu.

"They were asked to put down their flag and leave their weapons in the vehicle before going back into the city, but they refused and said they were free to go where they wanted in Timbuktu," he said.

Shots rang out, and two of the NMLA rebels were wounded while one member of Ansar Dine was hurt in the melee, he added.

Attaye Ag Mohamed, an NMLA member, blamed the violence on al-Qaida-linked militants operating in the area.

The NMLA is led by Tuareg separatists, including some who fought in the army of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. After the fall of Tripoli, they regrouped in northern Mali, one of the traditional homelands of the Tuareg people, and launched a new rebellion saying they wanted to carve out an independent homeland for the Tuareg nation, called Azawad.

They had seized only minor towns for the first three months of their uprising, but on March 21, a coup in Mali overturned its democratically elected government. The rebels took advantage of the power vacuum to push forward, seizing the northern half of the nation, a territory larger than France, in a matter of weeks.

They were helped by an Islamic faction, called Ansar Dine, which later signed an agreement to merge with the NMLA.

However, their relationship has been rocky and there have been reports that the merger was off after disagreements over what kind of Islamic law will be imposed on the normally tolerant and moderate soil of northern Mali.

Iyad Ag Ghali, the shadowy leader of Ansar Dine, is known to have ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, the al-Qaida cell active in North and West Africa.

The NMLA recently announced a governing council for the region that does not include members of Ansar Dine.