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Africa

Deadly clashes erupt in northern Mali ahead of polls

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-07-20

At least four people were killed in Mali's northern town of Kidal following ethnic clashes between Tuaregs and black civilians, officials said Friday, a sign of growing tension with key polls just nine days away.

Four people have died with many others wounded and the market set ablaze in the northern Malian flashpoint town of Kidal, the government said Friday, a sign of growing tension with key polls nine days away.

On Thursday night "armed individuals attacked people loyal to Mali in the town of Kidal, killing four, wounding many others and causing damages among the population whose houses and shops were targeted before they were looted and ransacked," a defence ministry statement said.

"On Friday the central market was set on fire."

Earlier Friday an official with the UN peacekeeping force in the troubled west African country had said clashes between minority Tuaregs and black Africans in Kidal had left at least one dead overnight.

The official said the incident was apparently caused by rumours that the army was sending more troops to Kidal ahead of the July 28 presidential poll.

"There were shots between a Tuareg group accused of being the MNLA (rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), or close to the MNLA, and the black population," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Kidal was one of the first major towns to fall when a short-lived March 2012 coup in Bamako created a power vacuum that allowed the MNLA, who had launched their rebellion two months earlier, to conquer most of northern Mali.

The Tuareg rebel group was soon overpowered by Al Qaeda-linked Islamists. It was allowed to reoccupy Kidal when French-led foreign troops wrested the region back from the Islamist insurgents earlier this year.

The MNLA, which wants independence for the vast desert region Tuaregs call Azawad, long refused to let government troops enter Kidal, but a deal was reached ahead of this month's crucial election, which aims to restore democratic rule to the country.

"Some said they heard civilians shouting 'Long live the army, long live Mali,' while others responded 'Long live Azawad'," the UN military source said. "There were shots and a civilian was killed."

Tensions were further inflamed when a group of armed Tuareg set fire to the town centre market while an unarmed Tuareg group looted shops and homes, the African military source said.

"The streets are empty and at least 40 civilians have been wounded," he said.

A source close to Kidal governor Colonel Adama Kamissoko confirmed "the death of a civilian in the violence. Shots were indeed fired."

"Shops were destroyed, particularly of people who came from Gao," another town in north Mali, the source said, adding that "dozens of civilians took refuge in the military camp."

He said the situation remained tense in Kidal on Friday.

Many Malians accuse the light-skinned Tuaregs of being responsible for the chaotic sequence that saw the country split in two for nine months -- with the northern half ruled by groups that imposed an extreme form of Islamic law -- and shattered what had been considered a democratic success story in the restive region.

A deal reached on June 18 in neighbouring Burkina Faso saw MNLA forces move into barracks as 150 regular troops were deployed to secure Kidal ahead of the vote.

The decision to hold the first round of the presidential election on July 28, followed by a second round on August 11 if necessary, was taken by the Malian government under pressure from the international community.

But the presence of the Malian army has stoked tensions in the powder-keg town, with pro- and anti-government protests a regular occurrence and several troops injured by demonstrators.

(AFP)

Date created : 2013-07-20

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