Scores killed in gun battle at military post

The Mali defence ministry has confirmed nine soldiers were killed and 12 injured in a Tuareg rebel attack on a military post in the north of the country. Other sources say up to 20 Malian soldiers and many rebels were killed in the incident.


AFP - Nine soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in an attack Saturday attributed to Tuareg rebels on a military post at Nampala in the north of Mali, the defence ministry announced early Sunday.

The ministry said 11 "assailants" had been killed and "many wounded."

A source close to rebel leader Ibrahim Ag Bahanga told AFP earlier that at least 20 Malian soldiers had been killed.

The defence ministry said in a statement that on Saturday morning the post at Nampala 500 kilometres (300 miles) bortheast of Bamako "was attacked by a gang linked to drug traffickers. Toll: army and security forces, nine dead and 12 wounded; assailants, 11 dead and many wounded."

Questioned by AFP a ministry official said the "assailants" had arrived in vehicles formally identified as those belonging to drug traffickers.

"We were looking for these vehicles, so those who came in them must be linked to the drug traffic," the source said.

Earlier the source close to Ag Bahanga said: "We gained the upper hand in the attack because we were prepared. On the army side there were more than 20 dead. We regret that, but it was them or us. We have wounded on our side."

Ag Bahanga has called for the army to leave the nearby town of Tinezawaten. The army has always refused, saying that it is used by international drug traffickers with whom Ag Bahanga is accused of being involved.

A local administration official in Nampala said there were "dead and wounded on both sides" but was unable to provide further details of the attack, launched overnight with the apparent aim of capturing the town's barracks.

Other officials said troop reinforcements had been dispatched earlier to the town, which lies near the border with Mauritania.

An independent source in the region, contacted by AFP, said civilians had been killed in the clashes.

The attacks came days after Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure called on Tuareg rebels operating in the northern desert regions to lay down their arms and agree on a new peace deal.

Tuareg rebels regrouped recently in the mountainous regions close to the Algerian and Mauritanian borders and are calling on the government to honour an agreement signed between the two sides in 2006.

In the deal, rebels dropped their demand for autonomy for the Kidal region after the government pledged to speed up the development of three northern regions in Mali.

The president also said he planned to visit the city of Kidal shortly, the provincial capital of the Kidal region where the majority of the rebels operate.

The Tuaregs are a nomadic desert people who have roamed the southern Sahara for centuries. In recent years they have staged uprisings in both Mali and Niger claiming autonomy for their traditional homeland.

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