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Mali's Army Takes Control in Northeast Part of Country


Army troops in Mali have retaken an area in the northeast of the country that was controlled by rebel Tuareg fighters. The largely nomadic, Berber Tuareg have carried out a series of raids in the isolated desert-region during recent weeks, but analysts say the government and rebels are now looking for a diplomatic end to the fighting. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The spokesman for Mali's army, Colonel Abdoulaye Coulibaly, says the military has taken control of the entire area of Tinzaouatene, a remote town near Mali's border with Algeria.

He also says the rebels have released a hostage.

The Tuareg fighters, lead by Ibrahim Bahanga, kidnapped dozens of soldiers and government officials during an August raid. An initial group of seven hostages was released last week in an effort, according to the rebels, to demonstrate their commitment to peace.

Coulibaly says the army is working to remove landmines planted by the rebels in Tinzaouatene. He says the local population is paralyzed out of fear of stepping on a deadly mine.

The Tuareg waged a series of attacks against the national army in Mali's isolated northeast desert region at the end of August and into September.

The campaign threatened to re-ignite a long-standing conflict between the Tuareg minority and the state. Mali's Tuareg say they are politically and economically marginalized by the darker-skinned people of the south.

David Zounmenou, an Africa specialist at the Pretoria-based South African Institute for Security Studies, says relative calm has returned to the region in the last week because both sides want peace.

"The rebels have already decided to end the hostilities and to enter into discussions with the government to find a domestic solution to the crisis," he said.

But he says the government has still not fulfilled many of the promises made in a 2006 peace deal, which pledged increased development for the Tuareg-dominated north.

"If the government of Mali does not keep a domestic solution to the problem, it will be very difficult for them to resolve that conflict," added Zounmenou.

As part of his bid to mediate peace with the Tuareg, Mali's president Amadou Toumani Toure has promised to distribute a $2 million fund aimed at development in the north.

A Tuareg rebellion in neighboring Niger, which has killed more than 40 soldiers, is ongoing.

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