News24

Malian forces battle Tuareg rebels

2012-03-04 21:19

Gao - Tuareg rebels on Sunday were involved in heavy clashes with Malian soldiers in the country's northeast near the border with Algeria, locals and officials said.

"Fighting flared on Sunday morning between the Mali army and Tuareg rebels near Tessalit. Heavy weapons are involved," a local official from nearby Kidal told AFP.

Malian soldiers, to whom US forces recently dropped supplies from the air, were involved in the fighting, a military official from a neighbouring country said.

"Fighting is intense and it's quite likely one of the two sides will gain the upper hand today," the source added.

A spokesperson for Mali's army told AFP that "in Tessalit we have been involved in fighting for several weeks against Tuareg rebels, drug traffickers and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim)".

Tuareg rebels have launched several attacks on towns in the region since mid-January, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

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

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.

The return of rebels from Libya, following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, has added to northern Mali's woes as the region battles Aqim, which has carried out many attacks on troops, the kidnapping of several Westerners and various trafficking operations, including drugs.