Last Updated: Fri Apr 06, 2012 20:18 pm (KSA) 17:18 pm (GMT)

Worldwide rejection for Tuareg independence in Mali; rebels vow to fight al-Qaeda

TV grab shows a pickup truck with the Salafist flag, carrying supporters of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, in Timbuktu. (AFP)
TV grab shows a pickup truck with the Salafist flag, carrying supporters of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, in Timbuktu. (AFP)

The United States on Friday rejected a declaration of independence by Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, joining international refusal to support the move by the insurgents, who vowed to help fight the “terrorism” of al-Qaeda’s African branch

“We reject the MNLA’s statement of independence and reiterate our call for the territorial integrity of Mali,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told AFP, referring to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

Africa and Europe earlier roundly rejected the MNLA’s independence bid, which was also shot down by Islamist forces who have fought alongside the ethnic insurgents to seize vast parts of the west African nation.

Rebels have made quick advances due to chaos in Mali since Mar. 22, when soldiers upset over the handling of the rebellion forced out President Amadou Toumani Toure just weeks before he was due to step down after an election.

The United States has imposed a travel ban on coup leaders and their families and cut off more than $13 million in aid, including funding to build schools and improve maternal and children's health in the impoverished country.

Britain said it was temporarily closing its embassy in Mali due to the “unstable” situation and “lack of constitutional rule.”

The African Union dismissed it as “null and of no value whatsoever.”

The European Union also rejected any break-up of Mali and called for talks to resolve the crisis.

“The EU has made clear throughout the crisis that it respects the territorial integrity of Mali,” Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, told AFP.

Ministers from three of Mali's neighbors will meet Sunday to discuss the crisis in the country, Algerian media said.

The APS news agency said Mali itself will not be represented at the talks in Nouakchott of ministers from Algeria, Mauritania and Niger.

All four countries have an agreement to exchange intelligence and carry out joint military operations in the face of Islamist and other insurgencies and cross-border crime.

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia told France’s Le Monde daily Friday that regional military chiefs would also meet in the Mauritanian capital in the next few days to review the situation in Mali.

Meanwhile, Mali’s main Tuareg rebel group representative in Paris, Mossa Ag Attaher, told AFP that “the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has clearly stated its demarcation from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its willingness to act within the framework of a mobilization of all countries concerned by this curse.”

He said AQIM’s “terrorism” was fostered by the “lack of action by the Malian state and the lack of hope for the people of the north who were mistreated or abandoned for decades.”

After decades of fighting for independence, analysts warned it will not be easy to dislodge the Tuareg from the north now that they have staked their claim.

At the same time West Africa expert Paul Melly of London-based Chatham House said Mali cannot be considered “definitively partitioned.”

“Much of the population of the north ... is made up of sub-Saharan Africa ethnic groups such as the Songhai and the Fulani, who consider themselves to be Malian and have no interest in an independent Tuareg state.”

Amnesty International warned that north Mali was on the brink of a “major humanitarian disaster’ while Oxfam and World Vision said crippling sanctions against the junta could have devastating consequences.

“All the food and medicine stored by major aid agencies has been looted and most of the aid workers have fled,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International's researcher on west Africa.

“The population is at imminent risk of severe food and medical shortages that could lead to many casualties especially among women and children who are less able to fend for themselves.”

More than 200,000 people have fled since the rebellion began in mid-January.

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