BAMAKO - Tuareg rebels and the Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine agreed Saturday to join forces and create a body to rule northern Mali, according to an agreement seen by AFP.
"The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Tuareg MNLA) proclaim their dissolution in Azawad (northern Mali)," the deal said.
"The two movements have created the transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad," the two groups who have been controlling the area for the past two months said in their "protocol agreement".
"We are all in favour of the independence of Azawad," the groups said in the deal, adding that "we all accept Islam as the religion."
In Gao, a major town in the north where leaders of the two movements have been holding talks for days, the sealing of the accord was greeted by many gunfire shots, local residents said.
In January the Tuareg rebels launched an offensive against the Malian army, which was heightened with the arrival on the scene of Ansar Dine, which favours the imposition of Islamic Sharia law throughout the land-locked west African nation of Mali.
A coup by Captain Amadou Sanogo and a group of low-ranking officers ousted the government on March 22, saying it was incompetent in handling the Tuareg rebellion.
However the coup only opened the way for the Tuaregs, and Ansar Dine, backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and criminal groups to occupy the vast north of the country, an area larger than France.
Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore is in France for a private visit and medical help after the 70-year-old was assaulted by protesters back home.
He is expected to return to Bamako next week.
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