Six Malian movements unite to oust Al-Qaeda in north

Bamako - Independent Maghreb Press Agency - Six Malian self-defence movements united Saturday and started preparing to oust the militant Islamists controlling the north of Mali. 

The groups announced they had created a joint fighting force of several thousand men with the aim of pushing out the Islamists. "To liberate the north of Mali, to unite the resistance forces, we have decided the creation of the Patriotic Forces of Resistance (FPR)," said a document signed by representatives of the six groups.

"Our six movements have together gathered thousands of men. Some are now undergoing training at our bases in Sevare," a central Mali town, one of the FPR leaders, Harouna Toure, told AFP.

Other sources confirmed that several hundred young volunteers were now being trained to fight the Islamists, whose grip on northern Mali has stoked regional fears of a new sanctuary for religious extremists in Africa.

Austere Islamist rule Muslim hardliners who fought alongside ethnic Tuareg separatists and swept across Mali's desert north in the aftermath of a March military coup, have sidelined the separatists and imposed an austere brand of Islamist rule. The Islamist forces include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Another of the extremist groups, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), has occupied the city of Timbuktu, where they have whipped unmarried couples, smokers and drinkers and destroyed ancient shrines considered idolatrous.

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