June 9 - Heavily armed Islamists in northern Mali say they would sacrifice themselves to keep control of the territory. Deborah Lutterbeck reports
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When Mali's Tuareg nomads launched a rebellion in January, many in Africa thought it would just be the latest in a long line of desert uprisings to be swiftly placated with offers of cash and jobs.
Instead, the Tuaregs' struggle for an independent homeland has been hijacked by better-armed Islamists from Mali and abroad.
The head of one armed Islamist group says he has no plans to quit
(SOUNDBITE) (French) ANSAR DINE SPOKESMAN IN GAO, OUMAR OULD AMMA, SAYING:
"All we want is to live as good Muslims, or die as martyrs, all the way to the death."
For the citizens who stayed in the North these are tough times.
(SOUNDBITE) (French) LEADER OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF KOIRA, IBRAHIM DIALLO, SAYING:
"We have so many problems, every morning we wake up with sound of gunfire over our heads. In the evening we go to bed with the sound of gunfire over our heads, there are consequences, many consequences."
Mali is still a long way from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan of the 1990s from which Osama bin Laden's then little-known al Qaeda readied the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. targets in 2001.
But diplomats point to an influx of foreign fighters, a debilitating rivalry between neighboring states, and steady flow of illicit funds as making Mali and the wider Saharan zone the next one to watch.
Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters
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