Mali rebels claim con­trol of army base

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY MARTIN VOGL

BAMAKO, MALI | Tuareg rebels said Sun­day they had taken con­trol of an im­por­tant mil­i­tary base in the north of Mali af­ter hav­ing sur­rounded the lo­ca­tion for weeks.

“There are no Malian sol­diers left in the base, they have all fled,” said Bayes Ag Dick­nane, an of­fi­cer with the rebel forces on the ground near Tes­salit. He spoke to the As­so­ci­ated Press by satel­lite phone.

The news was con­firmed by a par­lia­men­tary mem­ber from the north of Mali who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Col. Idrissa Traore, a spokesman for the Malian army, said he was ver­i­fy­ing the sta­tus of the base.

About 600 rebel fight­ers had taken part in the op­er­a­tion to take the base in Tes­salit and none of the rebels had been killed, Mr. Ag Dick­nane said. He did not say if any Malian troops had died.

The rebels now are chas­ing ve­hi­cles that fled the base, Mr. Ag Dick­nane said.

“One of their ve­hi­cles has had an ac­ci­dent and there are three peo­ple dead and oth­ers badly in­jured. I don’t know if the dead are sol­diers or civil­ians”

The gov­ern­ment has few bases in the Sa­hara Desert, and Tes­salit is of strate­gic im­por­tance be­cause it is one of the largest in north­ern Mali and it has an air­port.

The fight­ers of the Na­tional Move­ment for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Aza­wad have been sur­round­ing the mil­i­tary base at Tes­salit since late Jan­uary, but said they have held off on an as­sault be­cause some fam­i­lies of the troops were still in­side.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross was due to travel to Tes­salit on Fri­day to eval­u­ate the pos­si­bil­ity of evac­u­at­ing civil­ians. Ger­main Mwehu, a spokesman for the group, said the mis­sion to Tes­salit was de­layed be­cause the Red Cross had not re­ceived the se­cu­rity as­sur­ances needed from both sides.

Moussa Ag As­sarid, a spokesman for the rebels based in Paris, said the mil­i­tary was “us­ing the civil­ians in the camp as pro­tec­tion.”

The Malian army said it has sent sev­eral ground units to try to re­sup­ply the base at Tes­salit over the last few weeks. The rebels said their forces al­ways man­aged to pre­vent the gov­ern­ment forces from reach­ing the base.

In mid-fe­bru­ary the United States car­ried out a food drop for Tes­salit. A spokes­woman for the U.S. Em­bassy in Bamako said a U.S. mil­i­tary air­craft dropped enough food for 2,000 peo­ple for sev­eral days.

The United Na­tions says that more than 100,000 civil­ians have been forced to flee the fight­ing.

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