- Title: MALI: Northern Mali conflict not Tuareg rebellion, says army
- Date: 21st September 2007
- Summary: (AD1) AGADEZ, NORTHERN NIGER (FILE - 2002) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ABANDONED MILITARY EQUIPMENT IN THE DESERT AGADEZ TOWN STREET SCENE VARIOUS OF SAHARA DESERT
- Embargoed: 6th October 2007 13:00
- Location: Mali
- Country: Mali
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA2F532MFOV3L2QXXJ1HFA0GG7T
- Story Text: Mali's government has said the ongoing conflict in its northern region is not a rebellion by Tuaregs, but mere banditry and an attempt by the insurgents to retain control of smuggling routes in the area.
Mali's army says the conflict in the northern region, which saw at least 12 Tuareg rebels killed in three days of clashes recently, is fuelled by the insurgent chief's desire to control an arms trafficking route across the area. The rebel fighters are led by Ibrahima Bahanga.
Colonel Abdoulaye Coulibaly, the Director of Information at Mali's Ministry of Defence, says Bahanga is no longer fighting for the Tuareg cause, since an agreement with the community's representatives was reached early this year.
"This is not a rebellion, because today all the Tuareg communities and the May 3 alliance adhere to the decisions the government has taken with regards to the development of the northern region. Bahanga has broken away from this, and he is isolated today because he doesn't speak in the name of the Tuareg community in the north of this country," said Coulibaly.
"He's fighting to keep trafficking going on in his area, trafficking of cigarettes, he's fighting to keep arms trafficking going in his area. So it's not a rebellion. It's acts of banditism in this part of our country. Because it's a contrabande route, for all the big smugglers and Bahanga knows this, so he wants to control the area, he wants to be there for his own trafficking. So it's not a rebellion, no, it's for personal gain, for trafficking," he added.
The light-skinned desert nomads of Mali and Niger complain of being marginalised by black-dominated governments far to the south. They have also demanded more official and military jobs, as well as a bigger share of the mineral wealth of their Saharan region.
Mali's government has appealed for international help and rushed army reinforcements north to counter the rebels.
In neighbouring Niger, the Tuareg-led Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) has killed more than 40 soldiers this year and taken several dozen hostage in the country's Agadez region.
Officials in Mali and Niger see links between the two new rebellions.
But Niger's MNJ has denied any formal alliance with Bahanga's Malian Tuareg group.
The flurry of raids by Tuareg fighters against military targets in recent weeks, has brought back memories of greater rebellion in the 1990s that ended with a peace deal and the symbolic burning of weapons in September 2000.
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