MOPTI, Mali (AP) — At least one person was killed in ethnic clashes in Mali's northern city of Kidal, officials said on Friday, complicating efforts to restore order ahead of the planned presidential election next week.
The fight broke out late Thursday between a Tuareg, the lighter-skinned ethnic group which is dominant in Kidal and whose members tried to declare independence last year, and a member of the Songhai ethnicity, a dark-skinned, sub-Saharan ethnic group whose members support the Malian state, said Mossa Ansari, a medical worker at the local health center. Ansari said that several people were injured, though only one came to seek treatment at the health clinic.
"A Tuareg hit a Songhai. The Songhai went to go get his friends. This is how the fight started," said Ansari. "One Songhai was killed and at least one Tuareg was wounded. The body was brought to the center, and the wounded man came to get treatment. We have been told that there are several more wounded."
French forces stationed in Kidal shot into the air to disperse the two groups, said an elected official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Kidal is the last city in Mali that remains largely outside government control. It was seized last year by Tuareg separatists who declared independence, and briefly raised the flag of their new nation — which they call Azawad — over the city. They were driven out by Islamic extremists who were in turn pushed out by a French-led military intervention this January.
Although the French succeeded in flushing out the Islamic radicals, who are linked to al-Qaida, they allowed the Tuaregs' National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad to return to Kidal. For weeks leading up to a June accord, the NMLA blocked the return of Mali's government officials to Kidal. It was only last week that the governor of Kidal was able to return to resume his function, after more than a year's absence. Malian troops have also returned to the city, accompanied by United Nations peacekeepers, though the Tuareg rebels remain armed and at-large on the outskirts of the provincial capital.
Kidal's participation in the upcoming July 28 presidential election is seen as crucial to ensuring the legitimacy of Mali's next president, but so far only one of the 28 candidates in the race have deemed Kidal safe enough for a campaign stop.
The fight between the separatists and those who back the Malian state has taken on a racial dimension in Kidal, because the city's dark-skinned inhabitants almost unanimously support the government. In June, the Tuareg rebels rounded up dozens of black residents, accusing them of collaborating with the state. Dozens more fled south.