Mali Tuaregs say Algerian militant killed in clash

Mali Tuaregs say Algerian militant killed in clash

Sun 1 Oct 2006 1:40 PM ET

DAKAR, Oct 1 (Reuters) – Former Tuareg rebels in Mali clashed with members of an Islamic militant group near the Algerian border last month and killed one of its leaders, a Tuareg spokesman said on Sunday.

He told Reuters by telephone the gunbattle between Tuareg fighters and militants of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an Algerian rebel movement which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, took place on September 19 some 400 km (250 miles) northwest of the Malian desert town of Kidal.

« Yes, there was a clash … the result was that one of the leaders of the GSPC was killed, » said Eglasse Ag Idar, spokesman for the Democratic Alliance for Change, which groups Malian Tuareg fighters who staged a revolt in Kidal in May.

Speaking by satellite phone from Mali, Ag Idar said one Tuareg fighter was wounded. He believed other members of the GSPC unit could have been injured in the fight.

He could not name the dead GSPC militant but said he was close to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a GSPC leader in the Sahara.

In the Malian capital Bamako, a government source who asked not to be named said he believed up to three GSPC fighters may have been killed in the clash but he had no more details.

In July, the Malian Tuareg rebels, who have sought greater autonomy for their northern desert region, signed a peace agreement with the Malian government, brokered by Algeria, whose military has been seeking to stamp out the still active GSPC.

Intelligence experts from the United States, which lists the GSPC as a terrorist organisation, have expressed fears that the fiercely independent Tuareg nomads of northern Mali and northern Niger could be a target of indoctrination and recruitment by hardline Islamic militants.

U.S. Special Forces have been training local armies in countries of the Sahel, on the southern fringe of the Sahara, to confront what Washington sees as a potential threat from Islamist groups like the GSPC trying to penetrate south.

Ag Idar said foreign groups like the GSPC were not welcome in the Tuareg zone of Mali.

« Our Democratic Alliance handles security in the region and we chase out those who are not from there, that’s the position we’ve taken to control the zone, » he said.

In the July peace deal with the Tuareg rebels, Malian officials said the government had agreed to speed up development in the impoverished north and to allow Tuareg deserters to rejoin the army.

(Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako)