- Islamist militants - Mali - Tuareg
Mali's government rejects north's independence
Mali's transitional government on Saturday rejected a declaration by Mali's secular Tuareg rebels and the Islamist militants Ansar Dine that they had created an independent Islamic state in the north of the country.
AFP - Mali's embattled transitional government on Sunday rejected the declaration by an alliance of rebels of an independent Islamic Tuareg state in the north of the country.
"The government of Mali categorically rejects the idea of the creation of an Azawad state, even more so of an Islamic state," said Hamadoun Toure, information minister in Mali's transitional administration.
"Even though this state creation is just on paper and not de facto, we are coming forward to stress that Mali is secular and will remain secular," he told AFP.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Tuareg MNLA) and the hardline Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) announced overnight they had merged as one single organisation.
They said they were dissolving as separate groups and proclaimed the independence of Azawad as an Islamic state based on sharia or Islamic law.
Tuareg rebels, many of whom were mercenaries who had fought for Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and returned heavily armed to their homeland, rekindled their decades-old struggle for autonomy with a massive offensive in January.
They were joined in March by Ansar Dine, a previously unknown group led by a senior figure of the 1990s Tuareg rebellion.
When a band of mid-ranking officers toppled the government in Bamako in March, accusing it of failing to tackle the Tuareg rebellion, the two rebel groups took advantage of the chaos and soon conquered the entire north.