BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – Islamist extremist rebels say they have pushed secular Tuareg fighters from Menaka, their last base in northern Mali.
Oumar Ould Hamaha, spokesman of the Islamists of MUJAO, said the Tuaregs were forced to retreat from Menaka on Tuesday after heavy fighting. He said Menaka is under the control of the Islamists.
“I do not have an accurate record of the dead, but more than 100 fighters were killed,” said Hamaha. He said the Islamists are hunting for Mohamed Najim, the military leader of the Tuaregs.
Residents contacted by telephone also report that Menaka is controlled by the Islamists, but add that the Tuaregs are just a few kilometers (miles) from the town.
But the Tuareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, has not given up, according to its spokesman, Moussa Ag Assarid, who spoke to The Associated Press from his base in Paris. He alleged that MUJAO was getting significant support from another Islamist extremist group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“When the elements of MUJAO … arrived this morning, we had information on the numbers of their cars and their military capacity. We pulled back from the other side of the city to wait for reinforcements,” said Ag Assarid.
Many Menaka civilians fled the shelling by the Islamists, according to Bajan Ag Hamatou Menaka, a member of the National Assembly of Mali. He said many residents fled across the border to Niger and others went into the surrounding desert. He said 12 civilians were killed by the bombing.
The loss of Menaka is a significant blow to the Tuaregs. Menaka had been the last bastion of the NMLA since June when they were driven out of Gao by MUJAO.
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