Rebel Groups Vie For Power In Mali

The Tuareg rebels who have seized control of northern Mali have declared independence.

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In the West African nation of Mali today, northern rebels declared their independence. But that announcement was quickly followed by worldwide condemnation. The United States, France, and some of Mali's neighbors rejected the bid of secession.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the story from the capital of Mali, Bamako.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Malians woke this morning to the news that nomadic Tuareg rebels have formally proclaimed independence. This comes after the Sahara Desert rebels seized control of strategic towns in the north. They have capitalized on the power vacuum here in Bamako, after last month's coup.

Rebel spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid says a 50-year-old dream of a Tuareg homeland, called Azawad, has been achieved.

MOUSSA AG ASSARID: We want to live in peace - peace and freedom in our country.

QUIST-ARCTON: The rebel Azawad National Liberation Movement and its Islamist allies, who want Sharia law imposed in Mali, are cementing their military advances. Responding to criticism from the African Union and others, the rebel spokesman has this warning.

ASSARID: We say African Union, European Union - if they want to fight al-Qaida, we are ready. But if they want to fight in our territorial, in Azawad, that's a problem.

QUIST-ARCTON: Non-Tuareg youths, like Mohamed Dicko, who also come from northern Mali are furious. They say the north does not belong to the Tuaregs.

MOHAMED DICKO: If the Tuareg think that the north is their territory, it's not acceptable. Azawad doesn't exist and Azawad will never exist.

QUIST-ARCTON: There's been no word on the secession announcement by Mali's new military junta.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Bamako.

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