Back Mali in fight vs rebels, ECOWAS tells region
Underscoring the complexity of Mali's crisis, Ansar Eddine, one of the groups fighting alongside the MNLA, issued a statement saying that it was not fighting for independence, but to apply sharia law in the country's north.
"We do not want a separate republic but an Islamic republic, the Muslim republic Mali," it said.
The group, which has fought alongside the MNLA but is not part of it, is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a leader of previous Tuareg rebellions who has also served as a diplomat and acted as a go-between in hostage negotiations for kidnapped Westerners.
Analysts warn that the combination of the MNLA and Ag Ghaly's men, and the presence of fighters linked to al Qaeda, who also operate in the zone, are likely to complicate any effort to resolve Mali's conflict.
The conflict is also threatening to disrupt Mali's planned April 29 presidential election, after which President Amadou Toumani Toure is due to step down.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in the military barracks town of Kati, just north of Bamako on Monday, complaining about the poor conditions of those fighting in the army.
Witnesses said there was also a protest in the northern town of Gao over the weekend as hundreds of residents demanded the government focus on ensuring security before trying to hold an election.
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