Tuareg fighters attack town in northern Mali

KIDAL, Mali Tue Jan 17, 2012 8:45am EST

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KIDAL, Mali (Reuters) - Tuareg gunmen clashed with soldiers in the town of Menaka in northern Mali, a defense ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

Tuareg nomads, who have fought several rebellions for a sovereign homeland in the Sahara desert, are believed to have received an influx of weapons and men in the aftermath of Libya's war. Their last rebellion ended in 2009.

"There was an attack this morning in Menaka, however, Malian troops have pushed back the attackers. We are taking stock and we will give details later in the afternoon," said ministry spokesman Colonel Idrissa Traore.

"Rumours that the army camp was taken are not true. The Malian armed forces are controlling the situation," Traore said by telephone from the capital Bamako, adding that he did not have details of any casualties.

A resident of Menaka, a bastion of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a Tuareg separatist movement, said fighters began attacking the town late on Monday.

"They started firing on the town late Monday until early this morning. A military detachment arrived, they exchanged fire, and now the shooting has stopped," he said, asking not to be named.

He said he thought he had heard rocket fire during the clash.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure has been holding talks with Tuareg groups in recent months to defuse rising tensions in the remote desert north, where ex-combatants from Libya have been massing.

The clashes in Menaka come two days after the end of Mali's desert music festival, held near Timbuktu in Mali's north despite the threat from Tuareg factions and al Qaeda allies.

(Reporting by Adama Diarra, Tiemoko Diallo and Bate Felix in Dakar; Writing by Richard Valdmanis)

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