Rebels attack northern Mali town of Gao

 

Rebels today attacked Mali's strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal, witnesses and an official said. The move deepens the crisis in the landlocked West African nation after a coup earlier this month.

The two towns are major prizes for the Tuareg rebels, who launched an insurgency in January that was fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighbouring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Gao is just 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the capital of the landlocked nation, where a putsch claimed power 10 days ago.

If Gao falls, the only other major city in Mali's north in government hands is Timbuktu.

A soldier based in a military camp on the outskirts of Gao said he could hear the sound of heavy weapons being fired today. A resident in Gao said that he had seen the Tuareg fighters in the city and that there were brief gunbattles in the town. He said people had barricaded themselves at home. Both the soldier and the resident requested anonymity because they feared retribution.

A government source in Niger who is talking to both sides of the conflict also confirmed the attack, but also asked for anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The force is expected to meet more resistance in Gao, where the majority of troops are from the Bambara tribe. In Kidal, the majority of troops were Tuareg.

Malian residents of Niamey with family members in Gao said the city was under attack from multiple rocket launchers which soldiers who fought for Gaddafi brought with them after his regime fell.

The nearly three-month-old insurgency has cost the lives of dozens of Malian soldiers who were sent to fight the separatists, often without enough ammunition. Last week, soldiers at a garrison in the capital began shooting in the air in a mutiny over the treatment of their brothers-in-arms.

The mutiny spread to other garrisons and by the evening of 21 March, the country's democratically elected leader had fled the presidential palace and the soldiers had grabbed the seat of government.

Mali is now facing severe economic sanctions over the coup. The junta has been given a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians, which expires on Monday. The putschists are sending a delegation to Burkina Faso today to negotiate with regional powers, who are calling for the sanctions.

The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has said that they will close the country's land borders and freeze its bank account in the regional central bank if the putschists do not restore the country's constitutional order.

Coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo has said that he "understands" the position of the regional body, but begged Mali's neighbors to deepen their analysis and to examine the reasons that led to the coup, especially the botched operations in the country's north that cost the lives of soldiers.

Britain's Foreign Office on Saturday advised all British nationals to avoid traveling to Mali. They advised those in Mali to leave if they have "no pressing need to remain."

The Foreign Office said it could not immediately provide any definite figures on the number of U.K. citizens in Mali.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine