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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012

Mali's unrest

The return of Tuareg fighters who were employed previously by the Libyan government of Moammar Gadhafi has fed a resurgence of an old conflict in northern Mali.

The 1.2 million Tuaregs in West African states are a Berber group, different from the Africans who rule the countries of the region. In Mali they make up 3 percent of the nation's 15 million people and are located mainly in the north. Nomadic pastoralists by occupation, and Muslim and animist by faith, the Tuaregs first rebelled against the government in 1960.

Their latest effort to gain independence, or at least greater autonomy, spiked in January and is growing as Tuareg fighters return from Libya, where they are hunted down as former supporters of Gadhafi.

Their political arm calls itself the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. The armed wing of the movement has attacked army garrisons and villages in northern Mali, displaced 130,000 people, and created the beginning of a humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest places on Earth.

Mali, a multiparty democracy since 1991, has been a favorite of American administrations. It has benefitted from generous U.S. military and other aid. Landlocked, it is a largely agricultural economy, although it also has gold.

There may be pressure on Mr. Obama to provide more military aid to help it deal with the rebellion. This should be resisted.

Instead, the government of Mali should be encouraged to seek a negotiated end to the conflict with the Tuaregs. Repeated rebellions since 1960 underline both their grievances and their staying power.

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