Tuaregs promise to help defeat Mali rebels
Speaking from one of their bases in northern Mali on Monday, Moussa Ag Assarid, an official of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) declared that his movement was ready to lend its weight to France and other interventionist forces in Mali to deal with the Islamist militias who have come under bombing from French mirage jets since Friday.
“We’re ready to help in the fight against terrorism” Assarid said adding that they have men, arms and, above all, the drive to rid Azawad of terrorism.
The MNLA, are former allies of Ansar Dine Islamists who are seeking an independent Tuareg homeland in the north of Mali and had declared a sovereign Azawad nation after the region was overran in April last year.
The group together with the Ansar Dine had taken advantage of a power vacuum in Bamako in the wake of coup to occupy the north but soon fell out as the Islamists introduced Sharia law and desecrated tombs in Timbuktoo and Gao, drawing international condemnation.
The MNLA promise to join the conflict on the side of France followed three days of a bombing campaign by French jets of Islamists strongholds in the east of the country including Gao.
Following sustained airstrikes, the strategic town of Konna was recaptured from Islamist fighters who had invaded the town on Friday.
One French pilot and eleven Malian soldiers were killed in the fighting while ten civilians caught up in the conflict were also reported dead.
The neighbouring countries of Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Burkina Faso are poised to send in troops to help the Malian army.
However, the MNLA have warned the Malian army not to push into its northern territory pending an agreement over autonomy.
It had been in negotiations with the Malian authorities since December subsequently abandoning its demand for independence for self-rule.