News24

Mali army, rebels claim control of camp

2012-03-12 12:06

Bamako - After weeks of battles at a military base near the town of Tessalit in northern Mali, Tuareg rebels claimed Sunday to have seized control of the camp while the army said fighting continued.

"We have taken control of the Tessalit military base. There were not a lot of victims, we have taken a few dozen prisoners," said Moussa Salam, a leader of the Tuareg rebellion which flared up in January for the first time since 2009.

A regional security source contacted from Bamako said: "Our information confirms that the Malian army is no longer inside the camp. Did they leave willingly or were they forced? That is another question."

The military camp is about 15km from the strategically based town in north-eastern Mali, near the border with Algeria.

A military source denied the information saying that government troops were currently engaged in battles with the rebels, as well as members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magherb (Aqim) and drug traffickers in the region.

Authorities have accused the Tuareg of joining hands with Aqim which is involved in kidnapping of Westerners and other criminal activities in the country's vast desert north.

Heavy fighting has taken place for control of this camp since the end of February.

Tuareg rebels, many of whom recently returned from fighting for fallen Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, have launched several attacks on towns in the region since mid-January, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

They have struck up a decades-old battle for autonomy for the nomadic desert tribe which is scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Niger.

Mali and Niger experienced similar uprisings in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000 with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.