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Red Cross convoy blocked in Mali

15 March 2012, 08:44

Bamako - Suspected Islamists turned back an International Committee of the Red Cross convoy, tearing down its flag, as it tried to enter Tessalit in northeast Mali, a source said on Wednesday.

Tessalit was seized on Sunday by Tuareg rebels following weeks of fighting with the Malian army which says it operated a strategic retreat.

"Our team, which was heading Tuesday for Tessalit, was prevented from entering by armed Islamists. The team returned to Gao," the source close to the ICRC told AFP.

"Our goal was to bring help to civilians," said the source, who did not wish to be named.

An armed Islamist group, Ancar Dine, led by a powerful Tuareg rebel fighting for autonomy in northern Mali, has called for the national imposition of Sharia'h law in a video seen on Tuesday by AFP.

"It is an obligation for us to fight for the application of Sharia'h [Islamic law] in Mali," said Cheikh Ag Aoussa, a spokespeson of Ancar Dine, which means 'Defenders of Islam' in Arabic.

Ag Aoussa is the right-hand man to Iyad Ag Ghaly, who is shown in the 13-minute video inspecting fighters and leading them in prayer.

Ag Ghaly was one of the most prominent figures of a Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s and is thought to have links with a branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama.

Tuareg rebels, many of whom recently returned from fighting for fallen Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in mid-January struck up their decades-old battle for autonomy for their nomadic desert tribe.

Mali and neighbouring Niger experienced similar uprisings in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000 with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.


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