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Mali rebels appoint town chief in show of strength

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A rebel group seeking independence in northern Mali said on Thursday it had appointed an "administrator" to Kidal in a show of strength after French-led troops liberated the town from an Islamist occupation.

The Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) told AFP that Mohamed Ali Ag Albessaty, previously a local government functionary, would serve as its top official for Kidal.

"We have appointed an administrator to manage the city of Kidal," Mohamed Ag Mamoud, an MNLA leader, told AFP from the town of Tessalit, near the Algerian border.

The MNLA captured Kidal, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, on March 30 last year as part of a Tuareg rebellion for the independence of northern Mali, which they call Azawad.

The movement then took the towns of Gao and Timbuktu, declaring the independence of Azawad from Mali, but they quickly lost control to Islamist militias who had formerly been their allies.

French and Chadian forces moved into the town to bring it back under government control at the end of January and it serves as a base for French and Chadian troops fighting Islamists holed up in the region's Ifoghas mountains.

The appointment will be seen by the government as an act of defiance by the MNLA, which has said it would oppose any move into Kidal by the Malian army, accused by the United Nations of rights abuses against Tuareg and Arab communities, often confused with jihadists.

The Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), a Tuareg group which broke away from Ansar Dine, one of the three armed Islamist groups which occupied northern Mali for several months in 2012, told AFP it had agreed to the appointment.

France, which has 4,000 troops in Mali, is eager to withdraw and hand over to an African force, known as AFISMA, which would be transformed into a UN peacekeeping mission.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said up to 11,200 troops could be needed for the mission, backed up by a "parallel" military force to battle Islamist fighters.

The European Union Training Mission for Mali said on Wednesday that EU military instructors would start training their first battalion of Malian soldiers next week, in a bid to get the army ready to defend the crisis-torn country once French troops withdraw.

Expected to last around 15 months, the training will take place in Koulikoro, 60 kilometres northeast of the capital.

Fighting since the beginning of the French-led operation in January has seen 63 Malian troops and around 600 rebels killed, according to the Malian army.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130328/mali-rebels-appoint-town-chief-show-strength