BAMAKO, Mali, May 27 (UPI) -- Two rebel groups that seized control of northern Mali have agreed to merge and turn their territory into an Islamist state, spokesmen for the groups said.
The Tuareg secular rebel group MNLA and Islamist group Ansar Dine -- which has ties to al-Qaida -- signed the deal and have already begun to impose Shariah law in some areas, the BBC reported Saturday.
"It is true that an accord has been signed," Col. Bouna Ag Attayoub, an MNLA commander in Timbuktu, said. "The Islamic Republic of Azawad is now an independent sovereign state."
Coup leaders overthrew the civilian government in March out of frustration with its inability to handle a northern rebellion.
Ecowas, representing 14 West African nations, has said it is preparing to send 3,000 troops to help Mali reclaim the northern territory, the BBC reported.
Meanwhile, Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, is in France receiving medical tests after he was allegedly beaten unconscious Monday by protesters supporting the coup.