Faction splits from Islamist group in Mali

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SEGOU, Mali -- Ansar Dine, one of the main Islamic militant groups fighting to control Mali, split in two Thursday when one of its leaders said in a statement published by Radio France Internationale that he would form his own group to seek negotiations to settle the country's crisis.

The new group -- which calls itself the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and is led by Alghabass Ag Intalla, a prominent leader of the Tuareg ethnic group -- becomes at least the sixth group to be fighting in an increasingly complex battle to control northern Mali. Azawad is a Tuareg term for the vast desert region.

Mr. Intalla was described on the French radio station as heir to the traditional ruler of the remote and sparsely populated Kidal region in the country's northeast. He was said to have been among Tuareg representatives who met with Malian diplomats in Ouagadougou, capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, late last year. The talks were an attempt to resolve longstanding Tuareg complaints and lure them away from Islamists from other nations, notably Algeria, who are operating in northern Mali.

According to RFI, the splinter group said it was prepared to fight its former allies. The split within Ansar Dine came after French airstrikes halted the southward advance of rebel groups trying to push toward the capital, Bamako.

French and Malian troops have retaken the central Malian town of Diabaly, which was briefly occupied by one of the Islamist groups. They also claim to have cleared Konna and Douentza, but have not allowed journalists to visit either town. The main cities of the north -- Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal -- remain beyond government control.

The latest group to be formed is at least the sixth to join the fray in northern Mali, where al-Qaida-linked groups have overrun the secular Tuareg nationalists who initially started the latest rebellion early last year. The groups include the Algerian-dominated al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb; the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa, based in Gao, which is believed to be led by a Mauritanian; and the Malian-led Ansar Dine.

Mali has been in turmoil since early 2012, when the government's tepid response to the Tuareg uprising prompted junior army officers to topple the government just before scheduled elections. The coup only made matters worse, as the Tuareg rebels took advantage of the disarray to push farther south, capturing half of the country with the help of Islamic militants.

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