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Tuareg Rebels Suspected in Mali's Deadly Ambushes, Mine Blasts


Deadly ambushes this week in Mali's northern desert region have left about a dozen dead and more than 30 government soldiers in captivity. Malian officials suspect Tuareg nomads and link the attacks to the seven-month Tuareg rebellion in neighboring Niger. Phuong Tran brings VOA this report from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Malian officials are working through a Tuareg ex-rebel mediator to try to end the deadly desert attacks that have led to dozens of army defections, government soldier kidnappings, and civilian deaths this week.

Malian security officials blame the Tuaregs and link the desert violence to an on-going Tuareg rebellion in Niger's uranium-rich Agadez region.

No Malian Tuareg factions have claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Niger Tuareg rebel leaders deny any military alliance.

But U.K.-based Tuareg analyst, Jeremy Keenan, says the kidnappings, seizing of government vehicles, and use of landmines in Mali are the same tactics used by Niger Tuareg fighters.

Keenan says some Tuareg desert nomads in both Mali and Niger have reached a tipping point of anger toward their governments and foreign investors interested in uranium-rich parts of their desert home.

"A lot of Tuaregs have become increasingly fed up by being used in this way, by so-called peace negotiations, nothing very concrete coming out of them, increase in frustration, irritation, about being used, about being manipulated, about nothing very positive happening," he said.

Tuareg fighters in both countries revolted against their governments in the early 1990s over land rights and autonomy. The Malian government signed a peace deal with the rebels in 1992. Niger followed in 1995.

The Malian government signed a second peace deal last year following a one-day Tuareg rebel uprising May 2006 that promised to develop the mostly abandoned desert where many Tuaregs live.

Niger Tuareg rebels have said its government has not honored the 1995 promise to share more uranium wealth.

Government officials say most peace-deal demands have been met, and that the entire population needs assistance, not just disaffected rebels.

In the past seven months, at least 40 Niger government forces have been killed in the resurgence of Tuareg violence carried out by the Niger Movement for Justice.

More than 30 government forces remain in captivity in the mountains of Niger's desert northeast.

The Niger government has dismissed the violence as banditry, widened its powers of arrest and detention by declaring a state of emergency in the north, and banned television broadcasts of the rebellion.

Tuareg analyst Jeremy Keenan says based on past government responses to Tuareg violence, these measures can be the first steps to a military crackdown.

"What is worrying is the danger of particularly the Niger government, but also the Malian government using fairly massive force to crack down," he added. "This would lead almost certainly to attacks on civilian population and quite severe human suffering."

Niger and Mali rank last and close to last in a U.N. ranking of living conditions around the world.

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