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Mali News: Tuareg rebels seize military base, airport

West African countries discuss sending peacekeepers to Mali.

Mali tuareg baseEnlarge
A picture taken on February 22, 2012 shows smoke rising on a street during clashes between relatives and supporters of soldiers fighting rebels Tuareg in the north during a protest against the "weak" response to attacks by the rebels. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

After weeks of battle, Tuareg rebels say they have seized a strategic military base in northern Mali, the AP reports.

"We have taken control of the Tessalit military base. There were not a lot of victims, we have taken a few dozen prisoners," Moussa Salam, a leader of the Tuareg rebellion told AFP.

The rebels say they want independence for a region called Azawad, much of which is in Mali. The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad says nomadic Tuaregs have been marginalized by the southern Mali government, and there have been several previous revolts, the BBC reports.

The latest uprising, the first since 2009, began when Tuareg soldiers returned to Mali from Libya in January. The Tuareg had fought along side soldiers loyal to the late Muammar Gaddafi during last year's uprising in Libya and many were armed and trained by Gaddafi’s army.

More from GlobalPost: Mali News: Tuareg rebellion gathering momentum

The base seized this weekend is in Tessalit, strategic because it is one of the largest bases in remote northern Mali, and it is near an airport, according to the AP. The U.N. says about 100,000 civilians have already fled their homes because of the fighting. The displaced have scattered to other parts of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, all countries facing severe food shortages this year, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Last week, The Economic Community Of West African States, ECOWAS, discussed possible military intervention, according to Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper. Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, said the growing humanitarian crisis requires international intervention, Leadership reports.

“We agreed to return to our countries and advise our governments on the need to send peacekeepers to Mali,” Petinrin told Leadership.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was expected in Tessalit last week but had to postpone the aid mission because of security concerns, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last month, medical charity Doctors of the World left the area, the BBC reports.

More from GlobalPost: Tens of thousands flee Mali rebellion

Mali’s loss of Tessalit and the airport leaves the military with little presence in the north, which is known for lawlessness and smuggling, Reuters reports. Growing instability along with a looming food crisis in the region could complicate upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, according to Reuters.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120311/mali-news-tuareg-rebels-seize-military-base-airport