Tuareg rebels from northern Mali have proclaimed the “independence of Azawad” in a statement on their website and through a spokesperson on France 24 television.

“We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today,” Mossa Ag Attaher said on Friday, adding that the rebels would respect “the borders with other states”.

Mali has been gripped by instability, following a coup by army officers in the capital Bamako and advances by Tuareg fighters and other armed groups that have seen a string of northern towns fall under their control.

The MNLA statement on Friday stressed the group’s “firm commitment to create the conditions for lasting peace [and] to initiate the institutional foundations for a state based on a democratic constitution for an independent Azawad”.

France dismissed the declaration of independence, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said.

“A unilateral declaration of independence which is not recognised by African states would not have any meaning for us,” Longuet told the Reuters news agency.

Armed fighters stormed the Algerian consulate in northeastern Mali on Thursday, abducting seven diplomats amid fears that Al Qaeda-linked fighters are turning the country into a rogue state and fuelling a humanitarian crisis.

As the MNLA claimed success in its decades-old struggle to “liberate” their homeland, there were reports that Ansar Dine, an Islamist group which had also joined the fight against Malian government forces, had begun imposing Sharia law in some northern areas of Mali.  Read more…