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Thousands fleeing fighting into Niger

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Over a thousand families crossed the border into Niger, fleeing fighting underway since mid January between the rebels of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and the Bamako armed forces. The refugees arrived in Niger’s northern Ouallam and Tillaberi regions, fleeing from the areas of Menaka, theatre to violent clashes since January 18, and Aderboukane.

“The conditions are very difficult, the refugees are without food, drinking water and money, depending solely on the solidarity of local residents”, local sources said from Chinegodar, one of the areas where the refugees are gathered, to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “The hygienic conditions are deplorable. The lack of water and sanitary services is raising serious concerns of a cholera outbreak”, added the sources, explaining that the arrivals are continuous.

Eleven Malian soldiers arrived yesterday, two of whom with their families. Some cases of malaria, diarrhoea, food poisoning, pneumonia and malnutrition have been registered among the refugees, who are mainly Malians, though also some Niger nationals who were living in Mali.

Another thousand refugees also crossed the border with Mauritania over the past days, fleeing tension in Léré, in the north-west.

In an address on national TV, Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Touré announced that the army will “continue its duties of defence” against the rebels, but urged the population to not confuse the Tuareg communities with the rebels responsible for the attacks in the north. Touré specified that “the state will mobilise all the necessary means for the preservation of the national territory”. The MNLA is battling for the independence of part of the north, not recognising the authority of the Bamako government, accusing it of being “closed to any type of dialogue”.

Mali’s northern desert areas are key trade routes, also rich with hydrocarbons and mineral resources. Mali is Africa’s third gold producer, but also hopes to push other resources, such as iron and oil. Other unexploited mineral resources include diamonds, bauxite, magnesium and uranium. The nation is also approaching an electoral period starting April 25 with a presidential vote, in which Touré cannot run.