Tuareg rebels seize Timbuktu, say Malian `occupation` over

Rebels have said Timbuktu is among the three main regional centres they are targeting in a push to create a desert homeland.

Bamako: The Tuareg rebel movement on Sunday said
it had wrested control of the legendary desert town of
Timbuktu, the last remaining government bastion in the north
of coup-ridden Mali.

Announcing the "end of Malian occupation", the MNLA
(Azawad National Liberation Movement) said in a statement it
would ensure "order and administration." The group is fighting
for an independent Tuareg homeland in the region.

Timbuktu -- a fabled trading hub synonymous with exotic
isolation -- was the last major town in Mali`s north not to
have fallen into the hands of Tuareg rebels and Islamist

"Yes, the rebels have arrived in Timbuktu", a resident
said by telephone. "As we speak, I see them going towards
a bank in the city."

"It`s true, there are rebels in the town. They were
accompanied by a former Malian minister," a hotel worker in
the town`s centre said.

A young civilian died after he was struck by shrapnel,
said Omar Haidara, director of a Timbuktu private school.

The town of about 50,000 residents is a United Nations
world heritage site, nicknamed the "pearl of the desert".

The MNLA reiterated today it had "no links with any
Islamist group and ... its objective was Azawad, its people
and its liberty".