Malian forces exchanged fire with Tuareg rebels in the northern town of Kidal on Sunday, sparking fears of growing violence. The clashes come three days after Tuareg MNLA separatists broke a ceasefire agreement with the Malian government.
The violence came just three days after the Tuareg-led separatist group MNLA broke its ceasefire agreement with Mali’s newly instated government.
Local officials said Tuareg rebels attacked an army unit stationed outside a bank in the centre of the desert town. A MNLA spokesperson, however, offered a different version of events, claiming that soldiers opened fire on a Tuareg vehicle, injuring three men inside.
The clashes were the second incident of violence in Kidal in as many days – two Malian soldiers died this weekend after a grenade attack outside the same bank on Friday.
“Our fighters are now on high alert,” said Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, a Paris-based spokesman for the MNLA.
Residents said that calm returned to the town as night fell.
A Malian intelligence official, who asked not to be identified, said the violence coincided with the arrival of more army troops from the nearby town of Anefis. The military is trying to reassert its control over northern Mali.
“Now the town is surrounded by Malian forces, which are taking advantage of the situation to take back some positions occupied by the rebels,” the official said.
MNLA fighters had agreed to remain in Kidal under a June ceasefire agreement to allow presidential elections to go ahead in the remote region.
The group broke off the deal on Thursday. It accused President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won August’s presidential runoff, of not honouring the terms of the agreement, which called for peace talks within two months of him taking office.
Recent days have seen growing unrest across northern Mali, where French troops are still stationed after a military operation to destroy an Islamist enclave in northern Mali earlier this year. A 12,600-strong UN peacekeeping force is also being deployed to the West African country.
On Saturday, at least four people were killed and several wounded in a suicide car bombing in the northern town of Timbuktu by suspected Islamist rebels.
It was the first suicide attack since President Keita was sworn into office this month.
Keita won the August 11 runoff by a landslide with a pledge to reunite Mali after a March 2012 military coup, triggered by a Tuareg uprising, plunged the country into chaos and allowed Islamists to seize the northern half of the nation.
The shooting in Kidal came hours after a large explosion rocked the centre of the town. It did not cause any injuries. Local officials said the cause appeared to be the overheating of old munitions being stored in a former World Food Programme warehouse.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-09-30