Friday, April 06, 2012

MNLA Declares Independence in Northern Mali

Tuareg rebels declare independence in north Mali

Many civilians fled looting and chaos as rebels advanced in the north

A rebel group in northern Mali has declared independence for a region it calls Azawad, after seizing control of the area late last month.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) made the statement on its website, adding that it would respect other states' borders.

The group is one of two rebel groups to have gained ground in the area after Mali's government was ousted.

Coup leaders took over in protest at the failure to stem the rebellion.

The declaration comes as rights group Amnesty International warned that Mali was on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in the wake of the rebellion.

It demanded that aid agencies be given immediate access to the country after days of looting, abduction and chaos in the northern towns of Gao, Kidal and the historic city of Timbuktu.

On Thursday the MNLA rebels declared a "unilateral" ceasefire after the UN Security Council called for an end to the fighting in Mali - and after it said it had secured territory.

A statement posted on the rebel website on Friday proclaimed independence, adding it would respect existing borders with neighbouring states and adhere to the UN Charter. The statement also called for recognition from the international community.

The MNLA was formed last year, partly by well-armed Tuareg fighters returning from Libya, where they had backed former leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But the UN has previously voiced alarm at the presence of the Ansar Dine group amid the rebel forces, which has links to al-Qaeda and wants to impose Islamic law, or Sharia, across the whole of the West African state.

Unlike the MNLA, Ansar Dine is not in favour of an independent northern state.

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