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Tuareg, Islamists Clash in Mali as Invasion Nears

Dozens of people have been killed in fighting between secularist Tuareg rebels and an Islamist extremist group in northern Mali, AFP reports:

“It’s a real massacre. There are dozens dead,” said a Malian security source, referring to the fighting in the region of Gao. Witnesses on the ground confirmed the scale of the clashes.

The fighting between Islamist group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which is backed by Al-Qaeda’s north African branch, and the ethnic Tuareg separatists of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) has been concentrated around the town of Menaka, near the border with Niger.

“There needs to be a genuine international investigation to find out what happened at Menaka,” said the Malian security source, adding that dead bodies “could still be seen in the town”.

A lawmaker for the Menaka district, Bajan Ag Hamato, said some of his fellow Tuareg had been killed “defending the town against MUJAO”, including local political leader Alwabegat Ag Salakatou and six of his entourage.

Much of northern Mali fell under the control of Tuareg separatist and Islamist groups earlier this year after weapons and fighters spilled out of Libya when the Great Loon was killed. Periodically the Tuareg, who are largely secular and have waged a battle for independence against Mali and other North African countries for decades, and Islamist groups like Ansar Dine and MUJAO, which are nominally allied with al-Qaeda, battle each other for control of cities, smuggling routes, and supply networks in lawless Mali and neighboring countries. They cooperate occasionally, when it makes sense, like when Ansar Dine and the Tuareg jointly captured and briefly governed Timbuktu, but the disparate groups are increasingly at odds. After a brief honeymoon Ansar Dine drove the Tuareg out of Timbuktu, and it appears the Islamists are now expanding the fight to other cities in northern Mali.

ECOWAS and the African Union, supported by the U.S. and France, have been gearing up to send in troops to restore peace. It’s a messy situation. It’s not even clear who the international troops would fight: the Tuareg, for instance, have asked the U.S. and France for help in defeating the Islamists.

The great Libyan afterparty goes merrily on.

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