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Mali deploys troops to rebel-held city of Kidal

AFP

Mali’s military says its forces are preparing to recapture the northern city of Kidal, where Tuareg rebels have refused to let government officials in ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for July.

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Malian troops were preparing Tuesday to re-take a key regional capital occupied by Tuareg separatist rebels who have refused to allow the entry of the country's army or government ahead of nationwide elections.

Troops have been mobilised in four "battle groups" to enter the northern city of Kidal and "close in around" the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an armed group formed by separatists from the country's Tuareg minority, army spokesman Souleymane Maiga told AFP.

The move came after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the house of an MNLA commander in Kidal, the scene of a number of attacks since it was occupied by Islamist militants and then the MNLA after a miliary coup last year.

"They (the Malian military) are en route to Kidal and they just arrived in Anefis in large numbers and heavily armed," a resident of Anefis, 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Kidal, told AFP.

The army would not specify the number of soldiers sent to the region.

Kidal, 1,500 kilometres northeast of the capital Bamako, has French and Chadian troops to provide security but is being run by the MNLA.

On April 12, four Chadian soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in a city centre market and in February there were two suicide attacks -- the first aimed at French soldiers in which the driver of an explosives-laden car died and the second killing seven MNLA members at a checkpoint.

Tuesday's attack targeted an MNLA colonel suspected by the Malian army of being an informant for the French military, which sent troops into Mali in January to push out Islamist extremists who had seized the country's vast desert north for 10 months.

"The suicide bomber was waiting for someone in the (MNLA) colonel's house when he was caught by some youths and set off his bomb. He is dead and there is one person wounded," Maiga told AFP.

Dozens of black inhabitants were expelled from Kidal over the weekend by the MNLA in an act denounced as "ethnic cleansing" by the government, which reaffirmed that the presence of troops in the city was "non-negotiable" ahead of presidential elections scheduled for July 28.

The MNLA has denied targeting black inhabitants but claims it has arrested dozens, including an army officer, in a hunt for "infiltrators" sent by the Malian authorities.

(AFP)

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