UN: 22,000 People Flee Mali Fighting


The United Nations refugee agency says at least 22,000 people have fled fighting in northern Mali linked to a Tuareg rebellion.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards said Tuesday the U.N. is sending a mission to the region to assess the humanitarian situation.

The refugee agency estimates 10,000 people have fled from Mali into Niger, with many sleeping out in the open.  It says an estimated 9,000 have arrived in Mauritania and another 3,000 in Burkina Faso.

Tuareg rebels launched a new rebellion on January 17, clashing with government troops in several northern towns.

Hundreds of ethnic Tuaregs recently returned to northern Mali from Libya, where they fought alongside troops loyal to ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The government has been holding talks in recent months in an effort to defuse rising tensions in the north.

Tuareg rebels say they are seeking independence from the southern-based government, which they say has ignored Mali's impoverished northern desert region.

Tuareg nomads are present throughout the Sahel region of Africa.  Both Mali and Niger have battled Tuareg uprisings in the last decade.