|[Published: Friday June 29 2012]
Islamists declare full control of Mali's north
Bamako, 29 Jun - (ANA) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamists declared yesterday they had secured full control of Mali's desert north, a day after pushing their former Tuareg separatist allies out of the town of Gao in a gun battle that killed at least 20 people.
The appropriation by Islamists of a separatist uprising by Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebels regarded in the West as having some legitimate political grievances will heighten fears Mali will become a haven for jihadists. The local Ansar Dine group and allies such as the al Qaeda splinter group MUJWA had already gained the upper hand in the northern town of Kidal and the ancient trading post of Timbuktu after government forces were routed in an April rebel advance. "Our men control all three of the towns in northern Mali," Oumar Ould Hamaha, a Timbuktu-based Ansar Dine official said of the mostly desert territory which is larger than France. "They (the MNLA) all ran away, we decided not to pursue them. ... All I can tell you is that they are not even in the outskirts the city," Hamaha said of the battle in Gao. The separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad - the northern territory it claims as an independent state - said its forces beat a tactical retreat in Gao on Wednesday and rejected suggestions they had lost the battle. (ANA)
FA/ANA/29 June 2012--------------