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"....The Islamic fundamentalist group which kidnapped a group of European tourists in southern Algeria last year, took refuge in the Idrar des Iforahs mountains of eastern Mali before releasing its 14 remaining hostages there in August 2003.

One retired soldier who formerly served in the troubled area blamed the Malian government for withdrawing its security forces from too many remote outposts following a 1992 peace agreement which marked the first step towards ending a rebellion by Touareg nomads in the region.

Mohamed Baye, the parliamentary deputy for Bourem, where the latest clash took place, echoed this sentiment.

"Given the situation, only the return of garrisons and security posts can contribute to the return of stability and put an end to the carnage between the communities," he told IRIN.

The US government, worried about the possible infiltration of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists into northern Mali, sent military instructors to train the Malian army in anti-terrorist warfare techniques in Gao earlier this year. Washington also provided the Malian army with all-terrain vehicles and other equipment specially designed for desert warfare."
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