BAMAKO Feb 8 Northern Malian rebels have
seized the strategic border town of Tinzawatene after two days
of fighting forced government troops to withdraw into Algeria,
rebel and government officials said on Wednesday.
The fighting in the remote northeastern town comes as aid
agencies said some 50,000 Malians have been forced from their
homes in three weeks of desert clashes by a rebel force
bolstered by Malians returning from Libya's conflict.
The seizure of Tinzawatene by the Tuareg-led MNLA rebels,
who say they are fighting to create an independent state in
Mali's desert north, is a significant gain as it gives them
control of a key transit and smuggling point in the desert.
"It is true, the army has withdrawn from the (Tinzawatene)
camp and pulled back onto the Algerian side of the border, but
it was a strategic retreat," a Malian defence ministry source
told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Hama Ag Sid'Ahmed, a spokesman for the rebels, said that the
town's two military camps were under their control and several
armoured vehicles and other military vehicles had been seized.
One rebel had been killed and another injured in the
fighting, Ag Sid'Ahmed said.
The MNLA rebels have pushed south on three fronts since
fighting erupted in mid January.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said on
Wednesday that the number of Malians displaced within the
country had risen to 30,000. Another 15,000 have crossed into
Niger, it said.
Mauritanian aid officials have said at least 5,000 Malians
have crossed westwards over the shared border.
Before the rebellion started, northern Mali was already
awash with smugglers and home to a small but powerful group of
fighters linked to al Qaeda.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; writing and additional reporting
by David Lewis in Dakar; editing by Andrew Roche)