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Mali: Tuareg Rebels Proclaim Independence In North

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Tuareg rebels in northern Mali proclaimed independence on Friday, and asked for international recognition of their so-called “Azawad” nation.

In statement on their website, the rebels of The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA, said they would respect the borders with others states.

The MNLA declared a cease-fire on Thursday, saying it had accomplished its goal.

In a fast-moving offensive, the Tuareg rebels, along with Islamist fighters, had seized the cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over a three-day period beginning last Friday.

It is unclear if the Islamist militant group Ansar Dine, which fought alongside the rebels, will also put down its weapons. The group, which has been linked to the al-Qaida branch in northern Africa, has imposed Islamic law in some areas.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that the Tuareg rebel issue can be solved only through dialogue and not through military action.

Meanwhile, pressure continues to mount against renegade Malian soldiers who seized power from President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22. The soldiers accused the president of failing to equip the army to fight the rebels.

The country’s main political parties have rejected a call by military junta leaders for a “national convention” to sort out the country’s political and security problems.

The FDR coalition of 50 political and civil society groups said Wednesday that such a convention would not be compatible with a return to constitutional order.

Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo had said the proposed meeting of political and civil society representatives could forge a consensus on how to deal with Mali’s challenges.

The heavily armed Tuareg rebels arrived in northern Mali after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and launched an insurgency in mid-January. Tuareg separatists have been seeking autonomy for decades.

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