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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 March 2008, 22:52 GMT

Tuareg rebels attack Mali convoy

A Tuareg man
Tuareg rebels are seeking greater autonomy

Tuareg rebels in Mali have reportedly staged one of the biggest attacks against government forces since they resumed their insurgency last August.

The rebels ambushed a military convoy, capturing at least 20 soldiers and seizing as many as eight vehicles, reports from Mali say.

The attack took place near the town of Abeibara in the remote desert region of eastern Mali.

Between 40 and 60 soldiers were travelling in the convoy.

Among the vehicles seized by the rebels were two armoured personnel carriers.

Military officials were quoted as saying that 20 soldiers had been captured in fighting on Thursday, while other reports put the number of those taken hostage at more than 30.

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Three soldiers and five civilians are reported to have been killed since the most recent violence began.

Fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels continued on Saturday, Tuareg sources told the AFP news agency.

It is taking place in the north of Mali's Kidal region, where two Austrian tourists seized last month in Tunisia are reportedly being held by Islamic extremists.

The rebels led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, who captured about 30 Malian troops in August 2007 despite a peace deal signed in neighbouring Algeria in 2006.

The last of those troops were released in March after mediation by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, AFP reported.

The Tuareg are an historically nomadic people living in the Sahara and Sahel regions of north Africa.

Tuareg militants in Mali and Niger have been engaged in sporadic armed struggles for several decades, demanding greater regional autonomy and a greater share of national resources.

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