Tuareg rebels in northern Mali proclaimed independence on Friday, and asked for international recognition of their so-called "Azawad" nation.
The African Union quickly rejected the rebels' declaration, dismissing it as "null and of no value whatsoever."
The president of neighboring Niger also rejected the proclamation. In an interview Friday with VOA, Mahamadou Issoufou said, "Mali is one and indivisible."
Former colonial power France also rejected the rebels' move. French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said a unilateral declaration of independence that is not recognized by African countries has no meaning.
Facts About Tuareg Uprising:
- Ethnically Berber, nomadic people living in West Africa's Sahel and Sahara regions.
- Staged multiple uprisings in Mali, Niger for greater autonomy
- Current Mali rebellion began in January after Tuareg fighters returned from Libya where they fought for Gadhafi
- Conflict has driven 100,000 Malians to neighboring countries
- Conflict has internally displaced more than 90,000
- Losses to Tuaregs prompted soldiers' coup in Bamako March 22
In a statement on their website declaring independence, the rebels of The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA, said they would respect borders with other states.
The MNLA declared a cease-fire on Thursday, saying it had accomplished its goal.
In a fast-moving offensive, the Tuareg rebels, along with Islamist fighters, seized the Malian cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over a three-day period beginning last Friday.
It is unclear if the Islamist militant group Ansar Dine, which fought alongside the rebels, will also put down its weapons. The group, which has been linked to the al-Qaida branch (AQIM) in northern Africa, has imposed Islamic law in some areas.
Meanwhile, pressure continues to mount against renegade Malian soldiers who seized power from President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22. The soldiers accused the president of failing to equip the army to fight the rebels.
This week, the African Union and Economic Community of West African States imposed diplomatic financial sanctions against Mali and the coup leaders, and are demanding a return to civilian rule.
The country's main political parties have rejected a call by military junta leaders for a "national convention" to sort out the country's political and security problems.
The heavily armed Tuareg rebels arrived in northern Mali after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and launched an insurgency in mid-January. Tuareg separatists have been seeking autonomy in both Mali and Niger for decades.
Niger President Issoufou told VOA that he has no concerns about Tuaregs in Niger.
"We're concerned by the situation in Mali," he said. "We are not indifferent but in Niger there was a perfect integration among different nationalities inside our country. Nobody is marginalized. There is a national cohesion. Don't ask question about problems that don't exist."