Timbuktu residents launch armed group

2012-06-08 11:06

Bamako - Residents of Timbuktu have launched an armed group to kick out the Islamists currently controlling the ancient city in northern Mali, they said on Thursday.

"Today we founded the Patriots' Resistance Movement for the Liberation of Timbuktu. We want to chase the Islamists from our city and its outskirts," Boubacar Maha, the spokesperson for the group and a former government official in the region, told AFP.

Maha said the group, known as the MPRLT, has several hundred fighters - a figure that was impossible to verify - mostly from the Songhai and Tuareg ethnic groups.

The group opposes the declaration of an independent state of Azawad in northern Mali by the Tuareg separatists who have seized roughly half the country together with Islamist rebels from Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).

"We are against independence, against the Islamists. We insist on remaining part of Mali," Maha said.

Hamidou Maiga, an ex-army lieutenant, said the new group "will engage in military action against the invaders until they leave".

Timbuktu, a fabled city that is home to priceless ancient Muslim scriptures and mosques, fell to the rebels after a coup by mid-level army officers overthrew the government of Amadou Toumani Toure in March.

The motley crew of rebel groups took advantage of the chaos in the south to seize control of the country's vast desert north, an area larger than France.