UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he would launch an inquiry into the deaths of three protesters in northern Mali, who witnesses said were killed when peacekeepers opened fired to disperse the demonstration.
The violence erupted on Tuesday in Gao as peacekeepers were meeting local leaders angry over a plan to create a buffer zone in the north that would force pro-government militia in the area to disarm while Tuareg separatist rebels would be less affected.
A spokesman for the U.N. mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, said peacekeepers only fired warning shots after protesters threw rocks and petrol bombs at the base.
"The Secretary-General has decided to launch an inquiry to determine the facts surrounding this tragic incident. The United Nations will collaborate with the Government of Mali and all parties on the ground in this effort," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Thursday.
"He is saddened by the violence that surrounded the demonstration and the reported death of at least 3 protesters and the injury of several others."
U.N. peacekeepers have deployed across northern Mali to try to stabilize the vast region, which was occupied by separatist Tuareg rebels and al Qaeda-linked Islamists in 2012 before a French intervention in 2013.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols. Editing by Andre Grenon)