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Mali northern rebels fight on despite coup in capital, calls for cease-fire

BAMAKO -- Despite a cease-fire call from the military junta now ruling Mali, northern Tuareg rebels have shown no signs of halting their boldest and most successful offensive yet.

The coup leaders who ousted Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22 said they were partly motivated by the government's incompetent response to the fresh Tuareg assault, launched two months ago.

The Tuaregs — who have for years demanded autonomy for their nomadic tribes — have over the past two decades launched several uprisings against Mali's government.

But now the rebel ranks include men who fought alongside Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and have returned to Mali heavily armed, which has helped them win unprecedented military victories.

Late Monday, the head of Mali's ruling junta, Captain Amadou Sanogo, called on the armed groups “to cease hostilities and to come to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”

The various rebel factions have hardly rushed to accept the offer.

“It is our policy chief of staff who must respond to the question of a cease-fire,” said Moussa Salam of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group. “On the ground, we remain vigilant.”

A source within Ansar Dine, a separate northern rebel faction with ties to al-Qaida's north Africa satellite, said a cease-fire did not address the group's Islamist aims.

“Call to a cease-fire or not ... Sharia in the (northeastern region) Adrar remains the objective,” said the source, who is close to Ansar Dine's leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.

Mali's army is maintaining its presence in the key northern hubs of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal and guarding nearby areas; but several other strategic northern cities have fallen to the MNLA and Ansar Dine.

The MNLA has secular objectives and does not share Ansar Dine's desire for the imposition of Islamic law, but the two groups regularly fight together against the Malian army.

Last weekend, the Islamists said their capture of Kidal was “imminent”, but the army has sought to temper fears of wider rebel gains.

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