By Cheick Diouara
GAO (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed three Chadian soldiers on Friday morning at a market in the northern Mali town of Kidal, a Chadian military official and three witnesses said.
Chadian and French soldiers have been stationed in the desert town since late January to fight Islamist rebels hiding in the region's mountainous borderlands.
"He blew himself up next to a group of Chadian soldiers. Three were killed in the blast and several others were wounded," resident Ag Waerzagane Assikadaye told Reuters by telephone.
The Chadian military official confirmed the death toll and added that four other soldiers were hurt.
Chad has lost around 30 soldiers in Mali - the heaviest death toll of any of the government's foreign allies.
A wave of deadly bombings and raids by al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters has raised fears that Bamako is failing to reassert its control in northern Mali's towns, after French forces drove the militants into desert and mountain hideouts.
Tuareg separatists who claim to be helping fight the Islamist insurgents remain in power in Kidal, near the border with Algeria, complicating plans to reunite the West African country after last year's coup and northern revolt.
Mali's prime minister promised on Thursday that elections to replace the caretaker government would go ahead in July. But analysts fear preparations will not be completed in time and warn a botched poll could sow the seeds for further unrest.
Some 4,000 French troops are fighting alongside Mali's army and a regional African force, though Paris is aiming to cut its military presence to 1,000 soldiers by year-end.
(Reporting by Cheick Diouara, Adama Diarra, Tiemoko Diallo, and Madjiasra Nako; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Daniel Flynn)