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Mali Rebels Occupy Northern Town

Suspected Tuareg rebels are reported to have occupied a town in the northeast of Mali. They are believed to be led by a high-ranking deserter from the Malian army.

Police in the northern town of Kidal say two soldiers were killed by the dozens of attacking Tuareg rebels. They are reported to have seized at least two army bases in northeast Mali.

Gunfire was reported from the camps. The rebels are now said to control Kidal, which is more than one-thousand kilometers from the Malian capital Bamako.

The government has not made any comment.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Fagaga who quit the Malian army in February is believed to have led the attacks.

Many of Mali's Tuaregs promote autonomy for their region as they feel neglected by the state.

Mali witnessed a northern insurgency in the 1990s until the Malian army promised to integrate many of the rebels in a peace deal.

West Africa analyst Olly Owen says the attacks do not come as a surprise.

"The northern desert has never really been under firm state control," Owen says. "Just recently there has been a whole resurgence of militarized activity in that area. A colonel from the Malian army has deserted the army and is promoting autonomy for the region. It could be that this latest incident is related to that, but we do not have any confirmation of that."

Owen believes it is unlikely the struggle will lead to a clear political separation from Mail.

"The whole idea of autonomy for the northern Malian region is a little bit illusory," Owen says. "There are real concerns about decentralization and decentralization of powers, and that is a prime concern. But it is not a viable region in terms of it becoming a nation-state or any such thing."

The United States has been helping the Malian army in anti-terrorist training.