Sept 23 Tuareg-led insurgents in northern Niger and Mali have launched attacks on military targets in recent months, laying land mines, killing soldiers and taking hostages in campaigns reminiscent of twin rebellions in the 1990s.
Following are facts about the Tuareg and their insurgencies.
"BLUE MEN OF THE DESERT"
* Known for their indigo-coloured turbans, the Tuareg are a nomadic people whose ancestral lands stretch across large parts of the Sahara. Predominantly Muslim, they speak Tamasheq, a Berber language related to Arabic.
* The colonial carve-up of Africa ran borders through the caravan routes they had worked for centuries, dividing them up between Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and Chad.
* Fiercely proud of their independence from outsiders, they staged revolts in Mali in the 1960s and 1990s and in Niger in the 1990s for more autonomy from black African-dominated governments in capitals more than 1,000 km (600 miles) away.
* The seat of the rebellion in Mali was the remote, mountainous Adrar des Isforhas region north of Kidal. In Niger, it centred around the ancient Saharan trading town of Agadez.
REBELLION AND INTEGRATION
* Peace agreements after the 1990s rebellions in Mali and Niger aimed to grant Tuareg communities a greater degree of autonomy while at the same time integrating former fighters into the national army and promoting Tuareg politicians.
* The rebels handed over mortars, anti-tank mines and grenade launchers after the deals but kidnapping, banditry and smuggling remained rife in a region awash with arms and home to thousands of former fighters who still felt marginalised.
* Rhissa Ag Boula, the former leader of Niger's Tuareg rebels who became tourism minister when the uprising ended, was arrested in 2004 in connection with the murder of a government official. His brother revived the rebel group and launched attacks around Agadez until Rhissa was released in 2005.
* Hassan Fagaga, a former Malian rebel leader integrated into the army, deserted his post in early 2006 and formed the Democratic Alliance for Change, which occupied Kidal, seizing several army camps, before signing a peace deal in July 2006. Army officials said Fagaga again deserted in August 2007.
THE LATEST UNREST
* The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), a previously unknown group which is mainly Tuareg-led but claims followers among several ethnic groups, attacked the town of Iferouane near Agadez in February, launching a new campaign of violence.
* Demanding more development and a fairer share in northern Niger's rich uranium reserves -- among the world's biggest -- the group has since killed more than 40 soldiers and kidnapped dozens more, turning the region into a military zone.
* In Mali, fighters loyal to insurgent chief Ibrahima Bahanga abducted about 20 soldiers in a remote town near the Niger border in late August, the first of a series of attacks on military targets.
* Bahanga has been disowned by the broader Democratic Alliance for Change. His fighters shot at a U.S. military cargo plane which was resupplying Malian soldiers besieged in the remote garrison town of Tin-Zaouatene in September 2007.
* Although the insurgents in the two countries have not declared any formal links, security officials suspect they may be co-operating with each other.