UPDATE 1-Malian rebels seize key border town, civilians flee

Thu Feb 9, 2012 12:11am GMT

* U.N. orders rebels halt offensive

* Key border town in rebel hands as soldiers withdraw to Algeria

* Some 60,000 now displaced by fighting (Adds U.N. call, government confirmation, refugees)

By Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra

BAMAKO, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The United Nations called on rebels in northern Mali on Wednesday to halt their offensive, shortly after they seized the strategic border town of Tinzawatene and forced government troops to withdraw into Algeria.

The fighting in the remote northeastern town followed a three-week desert advance by a Tuareg-led rebel force, helped by Malians returning from the Libyan conflict, which has forced nearly 60,000 civilians to flee their homes.

"The Secretary-General condemns the use of violence as a means to achieve political objectives," a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

"He therefore calls on the rebel groups to immediately cease their attacks and to engage in dialogue with the Government of Mali to resolve their grievances," the statement added.

The seizure of Tinzawatene by the Tuareg-led MNLA rebels, who say they are fighting to create an independent state in north Mali, is a significant gain as it gives them control of a key transit and smuggling point in the desert.   Continued...

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