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Mauritania dispatched its top diplomat to neighbouring Mali to counter media reports that it was backing Malian rebels fighting for independence in the desert north. The Mauritanian foreign minister expressed his country's support for Mali's authorities. His visit came as rebel fighters arrived within 135 km (80 miles) of Timbuktu, the capital of one of three northern regions they want to annex to create a new state on the edge of the Sahara.