As fighting continues between Tuareg rebels and Malian troops, anxiety over two Austrian hostages increases. The deadline for their release expired Sunday night. (Correspondent: F.-X. Freland)
After days of fierce battles between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army near the Algerian border, the death toll continues to rise on both sides, and concern is growing that the fighting could jeopardise the release of two Austrian hostages believed to be held in the region. The hostages, Wolfgang Ebner, 51, and Andrea Kloiber, 44, were abducted in Tunisia by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Col. Abdoulaye Coulibaly, a spokesman for the Malian armed forces, confirmed that the rebels had captured several soldiers. However, President Amadou Toumani Toure seems intent to play down the crisis, not even mentioning it during a recent radio debate.
More and more of the rebels want their leaders to sit down and talk, according to Rhissa Ag Ratbou, a Tuareg political chief in the city of Kidal. "Since the last agreements were signed by both the Tuareg alliance and the Malian government, honestly, there is no point in fighting again," he told FRANCE 24. "I think the real fight that makes sense is the political fight, and I feel there is no point in taking up arms non-stop."
Many Tuareg civilians are using the Internet and newspapers to question the wisdom of continued armed opposition, but most of the rebels, along with their leader Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, still appear more determined than ever to continue the fight.
They have refused to re-open dialogue with the Malian government unless it reduces the number of troops in the north of the country, a condition the government has rejected.
The Tuaregs are a nomadic people in the Saharan region, living mostly in Mali and Niger, but with significant populations in Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. The rebels seek a greater share of the region's uranium profits and more economic development. In the 1990s, they launched an uprising in Niger and Mali, which led to a shaky peace until a second uprising began in 2007.
Date created : 2008-03-24