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High tension over clashes in the north

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The tension near the town of Niafunké, in north-central Mali, which was the target of an offensive led by the rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation dell’Azawad (MNLA) since mid-January, which is using armed struggle to take control of the Northern Territory has not subsided yet, said a spokesman for the Tuareg rebellion, which has carried out operations in at least six locations.

Witness accounts from Niafunké reported by the international press speak of a population that is panicked and of catastrophic scenarios when the rebels arrived the day before yesterday, shooting firearms, though there is no information concerning deaths or injuries. In Aguelhok, one of six locations attacked in recent days, the clashes have left many victims among the combatants and the city is said to be devastated.

The government says the rebels are bandits with ties to the terrorists of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), expanding in the region after the war in Libya. The MNLA has rejected these charges.

Last night, for the first time, President Amani Toumani Toure has spoken on national television of the security situation in the north, announcing the continuation of the military offensive against the rebellion.

A member of MNLA told MISNA that the speech had ”poor content” arguing that the president did not take into account the demand for “right to self-determination” whose inhabitants, Tuareg and Arab – commonly called ‘white skin ’- complain of discrimination by the black communities of the south, where Bamako and other centres of power are located.

The war unleashed by MNLA in response – said the rebels – the militarization of the northern territories to combat criminal networks (Aqmi), has already created thousands of refugees in Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso and perhaps Algeria.

“We are aware of the repercussions of the war, often against civilians. When we arrive at a place we try to protect the population and its activities, but the fear of bombardments of civilians are frightening and prompt the civilians to flee” said the MNLA representative. Sources speak of refugee families in the lurch, without water or food or shelter.

Today and yesterday, the families of soldiers sent to the front have demonstrated against the authorities in Bamako, asking for news of loved ones and more resources available to the armed forces to defeat the rebellion. Another protest was held in Segou, 200 km to the north, against the way the government in Bamako has been handling the crisis.

According to sources in the international press, a delegation of former Tuareg rebellion, the Alliance of May 23, with contacts with the Mnla, was in Algiers for a meeting with an official delegation in Bamako.