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Tuareg rebels refuse to disarm, take part in Mali polls


Separatist Tuareg rebels in Mali on Wednesday refused to disarm or take part in elections planned for July until negotiations have taken place with Bamako.

"The disarmament of the MNLA (the Tuareg's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) is out of the question. Have you ever seen a group disarm without negotiations?" Paris-based spokesman Mahamadou Djeri Maiga told a press conference.

The MNLA launched a rebellion for independence of the north in January last year which plunged the west African nation into crisis.

Its insurgency sparked a coup in Bamako by soldiers in March 2012, and the crisis deepened when the rebellion was hijacked by its Islamist allies, leaving the north of the country in the hands of hardline extremists.

As former colonial power France swept to Mali's aid in January and drove out the Al Qaeda-linked Islamists, the MNLA again claimed control of the north-eastern town of Kidal, the heart of the Tuareg homeland which they call Azawad.

French and Chadian troops took charge of securing the town, as the MNLA refused the presence of Malian soldiers, demanding autonomy.

However both countries are now in the process of withdrawing their troops.

"If the Malian army comes to Kidal we will have no other option but to defend ourselves. We have not given up arms," said Maiga, saying that "it is a war which is imminent, not elections."

"As long as we have not sat around a table with representatives from the government in Bamako and the international community to provide us with guarantees, as long as refugees have not come home, we won't talk about elections."

Over 400,000 Malians have been displaced since the start of the crisis.

The Tuaregs, a Berber people who have lived a nomadic lifestyle in the region for two thousand years, have waged several rebellions against the southern government for independence in recent decades.

Mali's conflict has also been marked by mob lynchings and other revenge attacks by black Malians against Arabs and Tuaregs -- whom they associate with the extremists -- leaving a tricky reconciliation process for the next elected government.