BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen in three cars attacked a town in Mali's north on Wednesday, killing three people including the head of the national guard, a resident and an official said.
The Coordination of Azawad Movements, a coalition of autonomy minded groups including ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs known by the French acronym CMA, said one of its members staged the attack.
Hours later armed men from another coalition group also took over the town of Lere, said a CMA spokesman, Almouzamil Ag Mohamed. He blamed militias allied with the government for starting this latest round of violence with attacks on Monday that broke a cease-fire agreement, and said the coalition groups had a right to self-defense.
Lere's mayor confirmed the attacks.
Mali's government in a statement Wednesday condemned the attacks, saying the violence by the coalition is a "deliberate intent to collapse the peace process."
Gunmen entered the town of Goundam, 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Timbuktu, on Wednesday and killed the head of the national guard, his deputy and a third person, said the resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
A Mali government official said the third person killed was a girl. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.
An increase in violence began in Mali's north on Monday when a militia allied with the government took over a Tuareg town, Menaka. Fighting continued outside the town Tuesday, and armed separatist fighters fired upon U.N. peacekeeping vehicles near Timbuktu the same day.
The fighting breaks a cease-fire reaffirmed in February, and could upset a peace accord signing on May 15.
The head of the United Nations mission in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, called on all parties to "remain in their positions during negotiations and to refrain from all acts, direct and indirect, that could compromise prospects for peace."
The U.N. Secretary-General called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Algeria has mediated several rounds of peace talks between the Malian government and various Tuareg groups that have sought greater autonomy for the country's northern region.