BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's MNLA separatist rebels said they had ended their fight to create an "Azawad" state on the edge of the Sahara on Thursday after achieving their goal, according the group's website.
The rebels, battling alongside Islamist militants who want to impose sharia, or Islamic law, swept through northern Mali last week, pushing government forces from Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, the three northern regions of Mali that the MNLA says will form the new state.
"(The MNLA) decides unilaterally to declare the end of military operations from Thursday, 5 April and midnight GMT," the group said on its website, www.mnlamov.net.
Malian government forces are in disarray after a coup in Bamako sparked a collapse as rebels advanced in the north but the statement indicates that MNLA forces do not plan to push any further south from their current positions.
Ansar Dine, the Islamist force that the MNLA has operated with, has said it wants to impose sharia across all of Mali and so far not put any limits on how far it will advance.
The MNLA has an uneasy relationship with Ansar Dine, which is potentially stronger militarily, and analysts say the two groups could soon clash due to conflicting objectives.
The MNLA statement asked the international community to protect "Azawad", but African nations and world bodies have unanimously rejected the idea of Mali's north seceding.
Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Alistair Lyon