BAMAKO, Mali – Nearly 40 government security officers have been seized in two raids by armed gunmen, according to a Malian government statement.
The statement read on state-run radio Tuesday, identified the attackers as "armed bandits," the government's term for the Tuareg rebels who have been active in the area.
Both attacks were in Mali's volatile north, which borders Niger. On Sunday, a Ministry of Agriculture convoy was attacked and 24 security guards were kidnapped in Tidjeret. On Monday, a military convoy transporting supplies was attacked and 15 soldiers were taken hostage between Kidal and Tinzawaten.
"The military will do everything in its power to liberate the hostages," said the statement by Mali's Defense Minister Mamadou Klazie Sissouma.
Tuareg rebels have also taken dozens of hostages in neighboring Niger in recent weeks, and there have been concerns that a larger pattern of instability is developing across a desert region dominated by the Tuaregs.
In Mali, the nomadic Tuaregs led a rebellion in the early 1990s to protest what they claim was the government's failure to develop the poor northern region they inhabit. A peace deal was signed a year ago which called for the government to step up development in three regions of the north, including Kidal, in return for the desert rebels dropping their autonomy demand.
Malian newspapers have identified the leader of the recent attacks as Ibrahim Bahanga, a Tuareg rebel who denounced the peace deal. An associate of Bahanga's told Radio France Internationale recently that his group was seeking an alliance with the Niger Movement for Justice, or MNJ, the Tuareg rebels in Niger.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, MNJ's Paris-based spokesman Seydou Kaocen Maiga denied that the group had formed such an alliance.
"We are all Tuaregs. The Tuaregs in Mali are our cousins, our family. But that doesn't mean we have a military alliance with them. We understand their plight. But we are fighting an entirely separate battle against a different country," Maiga said.