Booms from rocket launchers and automatic gunfire crackled on Sunday around Malis fabled town of Timbuktu,known as an ancient seat of Islamic learning,for its 700-year-old mud mosque and,more recently,as host of the musical festival in the Desert that attracted Bono in January.
On Sunday,nomadic Tuaregs who descended from the people who first created Timbuktu in the 11th century,attacked the city in their fight to create a homeland for the Saharas blue-turbanned nomads. Their assault deepens a political crisis sparked March 21 when mutinous soldiers seized power in the capital. The Tuaregs have rebelled before,but never have they succeeded in taking Timbuktu or the major northern centres of Kidal and Gao,which fell Friday and Saturday as demoralised government troops retreated.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) announces its army has surrounded Timbuktu to dislodge what remains of the Malian political administration, the main rebel group said on its website,referring to the Azawad region it wants to make its homeland.
Earlier,residents reported that army units were already abandoning their bases,leaving the defence of the town to local militias who took to the streets and fired in the air.
Meanwhile,under international pressure,Malis junta leader promised to reinstate the constitution from Sunday. Amadou Sanogo,who led the coup,also pledged to re-establish all state institutions.