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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-11-14

A group of Tuareg protesters sacked public offices in the northern Malian town of Kidal on Thursday, outraged that leaders of the Tuareg-led separatist group MNLA had called off a nine-month long occupation of the buildings.

Malian Tuaregs laid waste to public buildings in the northeastern town of Kidal Thursday, in protest at a decision by separatist leaders to end their occupation of state premises, residents said.

The protesters included dozens of women and youths who had been holding a sit-in outside the governor's offices and the local TV and radio offices of state broadcaster ORTM, which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had occupied for about nine months, according to residents and an army source.

Young people set fire to part of the governor's offices and sacked the public treasury and a nearby state education facility, according to witnesses.

"I can see a governorate wall that has been torn down and I also saw the treasury go up in flames," one civil servant told AFP by phone.

There were no immediate reports of casualties and the protests had calmed down by early afternoon, without provoking immediate reactions from the Malian army or troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The MNLA had pledged five days ago to leave the governor's offices and radio station Thursday, in line with the terms of a June peace deal.

The agreement was also signed by another armed Tuareg force and the Malian government, but the pledge to quit the government buildings split the MNLA.

An African military source and a resident said an eminent Kidal tribal chief, Intalla Ag Attaher, was trying to mediate between supporters of the deal and the opposing camp, which argued that vacating the building would weaken the minority Tuaregs's push for autonomy.

According to Moussa Ag Acherif, who is close to Intalla Ag Attaher's family, the patriarch of Kidal has urged MNLA rebels to leave the occupied buildings.

"The principal leaders of the MNLA were there when this demand was made," Ag Acherif said. One witness said MNLA chief Bilal Ag Acherif was among them.

The June accord, signed in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, opened the way for a presidential election to be held in Kidal along with the rest of the turbulent west African country in two rounds in July and August.

Up until the agreement, the MNLA – whose ultimate goal is the independence of Azawad, the name the Tuaregs give to their homeland in northern Mali – had refused to allow any government soldiers or civil servants into the desert town.

In January 2012, the MNLA launched an insurgency to take control of the north. A subsequent coup in the Malian capital Bamako led to chaos, and armed Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda overpowered the Tuaregs and seized control of Mali's northern half.

A French-led military operation launched in January ousted the extremists, but sporadic attacks have continued and the Tuareg demand for autonomy has not been resolved.


Date created : 2013-11-14

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