The Tuaregs, with 1.2 million in West African states, are a Berber group, different from the Africans who rule the countries of the region. In Mali they make up 3 percent of the nation's 15 million and are located mainly in the north. Nomadic pastoralists by occupation, and Muslim and animist by faith, the Tuaregs first rebelled against the government in 1960.
Their latest effort to gain independence, or at least greater autonomy, spiked in January and is growing as more Tuareg fighters return from Libya, where they are no longer tolerated and are hunted down as former supporters of Mr. Gadhafi. Their political arm calls itself the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
Its armed wing has attacked army garrisons and villages in northern Mali, displacing 130,000 people and creating the beginning of a humanitarian crisis in a desert region, one of the poorest areas on earth. It claims to have no links to al-Qaida.
Mali, a multiparty democracy since 1991, has been a favorite of American administrations, benefiting from generous U.S. military and other aid. Landlocked, it is a largely agricultural economy, although it also has gold.
Given Mali's close relations with the United States there may be pressure on President Barack Obama to provide more military aid to help it deal with the rebellion. This should be resisted and instead the Malian government should be encouraged, by former colonial power France and by Washington, to seek a negotiated end to the conflict with the Tuaregs. Repeated rebellions since 1960 underline both their grievances and their staying power.