The nomadic Tuaregs of northern Mali have joined forces with Islamic extremists to seize control of the north of the country, and now surround the legendary town of Timbuktu.
Conditions in unstable Mali are ripe for the insurgents, following last weeks coup by army officers, deposing the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. The army accused the government of failing to arm them adequately to fight against the northern rebels who have benefited from an influx of arms from the uprising in Libya.
Zim Diaspora reported that soldiers went on a drinking and looting spree following the coup, allowing the rebels the opportunity to advance. There are fears that the increased turmoil in Mali will allow the north to become a haven for terrorist groups as it falls into lawlessness.
The Tuareg separatists from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) are well equipped with weapons looted from Libya and have the support of Ansar Edine, an Islamic group that wants to impose shariah law on secular Mali.
France 24 reported rebels that have claimed control of the town of Kidal and the garrison town of Gao, now surround the ancient town of Timbuktu. Local man Mohamed Ould Ali said "It's our turn now. There is gunfire everywhere."
According to the BBCthe coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, said soldiers had decided not to fight the rebels in Gao. There are reports of the army fleeing the north allowing the rebels to make significant gains. The newly installed military Junta has been given a deadline of midnight Sunday to hand back control.