Tuareg rebels have attacked an army outpost in northern Niger, killing 15 government soldiers.

The rebel group Niger Movement for Justice claimed responsibility for the attack in Tezirzayt on its Web site Friday.  The group said it attacked two companies of government troops, taking 72 prisoners and wounding 43 on top of those killed.

Military officers have confirmed the attack and the casualty totals.

The rebels say they were responding to a speech by President Mamadou Tandja in which he said recent unrest in the north was caused by bandits.

The rebels have claimed responsibility for at least two other attacks in Niger this year, including one Sunday on an airport in the town of Agadez.

Fighters from the Tuareg ethnic group have been fighting for greater autonomy in Niger and neighboring Mali since 1990.

The mostly nomadic Tuareg live throughout the Sahara Desert region in Algeria, Libya, Mali and Niger.

In 1995, Niger's government signed a peace deal with Tuareg rebels, but insecurity has continued.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.