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Rebels talking to coup soldiers

Rebels taking advantage of a coup are negotiating with soldiers for a peaceful resolution in Mali's strategic northern garrison town of Kidal, according to the government and representatives of the Sahara's nomadic Tuareg people.

Sources in Mali and neighbouring Niger said today the rebels hope to take Kidal without a fight.

Kidal would be a major prize for the rebels, who relaunched their decades-old fight in mid-January, led by battle-hardened officers and troops who fought for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and returned home heavily armed.

Kidal is one of two major northern towns that failed to fall in two previous Tuareg rebellions in the 1990s and 2000s.

It is not known how many civilians remain in the town of about 26,000 where soldiers are living with their families.

The Niger source said a column of rebels also headed for the main northern city of Gao, intent on pressing their advantage to the government's main stronghold there. Gao is about 190 miles south of Kidal.

The rebels have profited from the disarray in Mali's military command following Wednesday's coup by soldiers led by a middle-ranking US-trained officer.

Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has said he wants to negotiate with the rebels, but he also has promised to give the army what it needs to halt the insurgency.

Disgruntled soldiers staged Wednesday's coup charging the government was not giving troops the arms, ammunition and food supplies needed to defend themselves and fight the rebels.

Troops short of ammunition and morale have fled several smaller towns against the rebel advance in recent weeks.

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