/ 22 May 2008

Tuareg rebels attack Mali army camp, 32 killed

Tuareg rebels attacked an army camp in north-eastern Mali where 17 rebels and 15 soldiers were killed in one of the bloodiest clashes to date in a revolt by the desert insurgents, the government said on Thursday. A Defence Ministry statement said an ''armed band'' assaulted the camp at Abebara during the night of Tuesday to Wednesday in Mali's remote north-east.

Tuareg rebels attacked an army camp in north-eastern Mali where 17 rebels and 15 soldiers were killed in one of the bloodiest clashes to date in a revolt by the desert insurgents, the government said on Thursday.

A Defence Ministry statement said an ”armed band” assaulted the camp at Abebara, 150km from Kidal during the night of Tuesday to Wednesday in Mali’s remote north-east, where Tuareg fighters have carried out a series of raids and ambushes.

Six government soldiers and about 20 rebels were wounded in the fighting, the ministry said.

Mali’s government and the rebels, whom the army says are trying to control northern cross-border smuggling routes for arms and drugs, had agreed a Libyan-brokered ceasefire in April.

But Tuareg fighters attacked a military supply convoy a month after the April 3 truce and the Malian army had kept its troops on a war footing in the north because it did not trust the rebel’s pledge to respect the ceasefire.

Mali’s eastern neighbour, Niger, faces its own Tuareg-led revolt, which has killed over 70 government soldiers in barely a year, mainly in attacks near its northern uranium mining zone.

Fiercely proud of their independence from outsiders, the Tuaregs staged revolts in Mali in the 1960s and 1990s and in Niger in the 1990s for more autonomy from black African-dominated governments in capitals more than 1 000km away.

Peace agreements after the 1990s rebellions aimed to grant Tuareg communities a greater degree of autonomy while at the same time integrating former fighters into the national army and promoting Tuareg politicians. But grievances have resurfaced. — Reuters