Tuareg rebels in northern Mali say they will push to seize more government territory, a day after mutinous soldiers in the south overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure.
During an interview with VOA's French to Africa service, a leader of the rebel MNLA said rebels plan to advance toward areas held by the Malian army, including the towns of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao.
MNLA second-in-command Karim ag Matafa said the group wants to remove the government from what the rebels consider Tuareg land.
Our problem is not with a specific government, he says. Our problem is with the occupation of our country.
Ethnic Tuareg fighters began their uprising against Mali's government in January. The army's dissatisfaction with Mr. Toure's handling of the rebellion prompted soldiers to stage a coup early Thursday.
The coup has drawn strong criticism internationally. Friday, the European Union suspended development aid to Mali, a day after the EU, United States, and African Union all called for the return of constitutional rule.
President Toure's whereabouts are unknown, though media reports Thursday said he is under the protection of his presidential guard.
The apparent leader of the mutiny, Captain Amadou Sanogo, said on state television Thursday the president and the arrested ministers are safe and will not be harmed.
"They are well and fine," he said. "I will assure you we will not harm the physical integrity of anyone, but I will assure you that while I am in charge of this movement and, in conjunction with civil society, they will face the competent authorities in full view of the Malian people.''
Thursday's coup took place just a few weeks before the president was due to step down at the end of his second term. Elections are scheduled for next month.
Sonny Ugoh, an official with regional bloc ECOWAS, said Thursday the coup heightens insecurity in Mali. ECOWAS had been working with Mali's leaders to try to negotiate an end to the Tuareg uprising, he said.
“The president of the commission just led a fact-finding mission that returned from Mali where they held consultations, all with the intention of starting a process that would hopefully lead to a negotiated resolution of the crisis in the north of Mali."
Well-armed Tuareg separatists started attacking army bases in Mali's desert in January, after many Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they had assisted in the ousting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The United Nations refugee agency says the conflict has uprooted 130,000 people in and around Mali. Many soldiers have died in the conflict.
Tuareg nomads have launched periodic uprisings for greater autonomy in Mali and Niger.