BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian soldiers and Tuareg separatist rebels clashed for another day on Thursday, endangering peace talks as the death toll from this week's violence in northern Mali reached at least 19 people.
Residents said separatist fighters attacked another town Thursday located between the city of Timbuktu and the town of Lere, 60 kilometers (37.28 miles) east of the Mauritanian border. Meanwhile, other violence was reported near the city Gao.
Thursday's clashes in the town of Bintagoungou were also confirmed by members of the coalition of Tuareg separatist groups who have stepped up their attacks in April even as the date to sign a peace agreement with the government approaches. The parties are due to sign the accord on May 15 but that has been called into question by the recent violence.
Mali's government said the violence has left nine soldiers dead along with at least 10 rebels. However, rebel spokesman Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadan said that 20 Malian soldiers had been killed and that three rebels had died in the fighting.
The Malian government has condemned the uptick in violence, saying it is a "deliberate attempt to collapse the peace process."
All parties had reaffirmed a cease-fire back in February during talks mediated in Algeria. But on Monday, a pro-government militia took over the Tuareg town of Menaka, sparking the Tuareg rebels to then attack several other areas in the north.
The head of the United Nations mission in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, has 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."