Army claims victory in clashes with Tuareg rebels

The Malian army claims to have crushed Tuareg rebel groups in an offensive in which the rebels "went packing". Reports say the "offensive" involved small-scale skirmishes from a distance and that no one was killed.


AFP - The Malian army clashed Friday with Tuareg rebel groups led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga in the north of the country, Tuareg and Malian sources told AFP.

"Our troops have launched an offensive against the positions of the group of armed rebels (the government term for Ag Bahanga's rebels). We have put all the necessary means out there," an army officer, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

Later on Friday another Malian military source told AFP that the offensive was over.

"It's finished, the rebels went packing. No one was hurt," the source said.

A foreign military source, speaking on condition of anonymity said there had been only "skirmishes".

"The Malian soldiers fired from a distance and the armed rebels fired back from a distance. We think no one was hurt or wounded," he told AFP.

A source close to the rebels who identified himself as Ousmane Ag Mamoud, confirmed to AFP that the rebels had been attacked and said some people were wounded.

The army offensive follows grenade attacks on the homes of Tuareg officials working for the Malian government in the northern town on Gao which killed two people, sources said. None of the officials was at home.

The attacks took place Thursday and began "at the home of the director general of the agency for the development of the north (ADN, a state body)," Assarid Ag Imbarcawane, deputy speaker of the country's national assembly, told AFP.

"The grenade exploded in the hand of the young man holding the device and he was killed.

"Then there was a second attack on a (senior) politician where the grenade killed a women servant while at my house there was a serious injury."

The ADN director general Mohamed Ag Mamoud confirmed the reports. A man was reported to be in police custody.

"These are enemies of peace in the north who carried this out," said Ag Mamoud. "We are not going to play their game to scuttle the peace process."

Tuareg rebels regrouped recently in the mountainous regions close to the Algerian and Mauritanian borders and are calling on the government to honour a peace agreement signed between the two sides in 2006.

In the deal, rebels dropped their demand for autonomy for the Kidal region after the government pledged to speed up the development of three northern regions in Mali.

The Tuaregs are a nomadic desert people who have roamed the southern Sahara for centuries. In recent years they have staged uprisings in both Mali and Niger claiming autonomy for their traditional homeland.

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