France Dismisses Mali Rebel Claim
In northern Mali, Tuareg rebels proclaimed independence Friday, and asked for international recognition of their so-called "Azawad" nation.
France, the former territorial colonial power, quickly responded by dismissing the rebels' declaration. French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said a unilateral declaration of independence that is not recognized by African countries has no meaning.
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, had seized the cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over a three-day period beginning last Friday.
It is unclear if an Islamist militant group fighting 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.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that the Tuareg rebel issue can be solved only through dialogue and not through military action.
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.
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 FDR coalition of 50 political and civil society groups said Wednesday that such a convention would not be compatible with a return to constitutional order.
Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo had said the proposed meeting of political and civil society representatives could forge a consensus on how to deal with Mali's challenges.
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 for decades.
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
Article by VOA News