CORRECTED-Sahara states at odds over Mali rebels

Mon Apr 9, 2012 10:48am GMT

(Corrects first name of Algerian minister in 14th paragraph)

* Niger seeks action, Algeria dialogue in Mali's north

* Confusion prevails in northern zone abandoned by army

By Laurent Prieur

NOUAKCHOTT, April 8 (Reuters) - Sahara Desert states differed on Sunday over whether to crush or talk to the rebels who have seized northern Mali - a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamists with links to al Qaeda.

At a meeting of regional countries in Mauritania, Niger said the rebels' gains should be reversed before any talks, but Algeria warned that military intervention risked further complicating the situation.

The rebels, bolstered by guns and fighters from Libya's war last year, routed Malian troops, in disarray after a March 22 coup, to carve out a zone the size of France and declare an independent state of "Azawad".

Mali's government had long had a weak hold over its northern zone, but its neighbours now fear a void that will exacerbate regional instability, terrorism and smuggling.

Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and Mali had set up a joint military command headquarters before the lightning rebel push, although it had struggled to coordinate efforts against what they see as an Islamist threat in the Sahara.   Continued...

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