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Northern Mali off limits, U.S. warns

March 26, 2012 at 10:11 AM

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. government employees can't travel to the north of Mali without written consent because of the presence of al-Qaida, the U.S. State Department said.

Military officers stormed the presidential palace Wednesday and announced they overthrew what they called Amadou Toumani Toure's "incompetent government." The coup came weeks before presidential elections. Toure said he wouldn't seek a third term in office.

The State Department, in a travel advisory, warned there was a heightened risk of attack and kidnappings of Westerners in the north of the country after "mutineers" seized the presidential palace.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako designated northern Mali off limits.

"This designation is based on the presence of al-Qaida in the Lands of the Maghreb, as well as banditry in the region," the warning read.

Toure's administration had struggled to quell a growing Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.

Tuareg rebels fought alongside fighters loyal to former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and the simmering conflict rekindled ethnic tensions between northern and southern Malians.

"Law and order is not assured," the State Department advisory noted.

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