400 Malian army deserters arrive in Niger
05/10/2012 11:04 GMT
NIAMEY, May 10, 2012 (AFP) - About 400 men who deserted from Mali's army after an offensive by Tuareg and Islamist rebels in the north have arrived in neighbouring Niger, a Niger security source said Thursday.
"About 400 of them arrived at the beginning of the week at the Malian border and they are camped in tents at Saguia," a village to the south of the capital Niamey, the source told AFP, asking not to be named.
The deserters were being guarded by Niger's army, the source added.
These men were led by Colonel Alaji Ag Gamou, a former senior Malian commander in the north, who fled early in April after a sweeping offensive where rebels captured the entire north.
After they fled with their weapons, Ag Gamou and his soldiers took up a position close to the Niger border.
"They came to Niamey on board 60 vehicles, without weapons," a Tuareg source told AFP, adding that the deserters promptly "handed over their weapons to Niger authorities".
"Some 300 of Colonel Ag Gamou's men preferred last week to join the ranks of the MNLA, rather than come to Niger," the Tuareg source added.
Niger has itself faced rebellions by Tuareg, a nomadic Sahara desert people seeking autonomy for their nomadic tribes.
Northern Mali has since the end of March been in the hands of the MNLA, which launched its offensive in January, and various Islamic groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
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