Fighting flares between Mali army, rebels in Kidal

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2013 8:39 AM

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian soldiers and ethnic Tuareg separatist rebels clashed again in the northern desert town of Kidal early Monday, a day after trading gunfire downtown and sending terrified residents inside their homes.

After a lull in violence overnight, fighting flared again in the early morning but was brought to a halt when French soldiers arrived at the scene several hours later.

"The French forces are trying to calm the situation but it's very complicated," said Hubert de Quievrecourt, a communications adviser with the French military mission. "For the moment there is no casualty toll but the fighting has stopped."

Residents said the fighting on Monday again centered around a bank being guarded by Malian soldiers, where gunfire rang out on Sunday. The same Kidal bank was targeted in a grenade attack two weeks ago. Each side accused the other of firing the first shots.

The clashes, which wounded three people, marked the first such violence in Kidal since the rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, announced last week they were suspending participation in a peace accord signed with the government in June.

That accord allowed for the Malian military to return to the town, where a separatist rebellion sparked in early 2012 forced the soldiers into retreat. The June agreement also allowed for democratic elections to go forward, the first since a March 2012 coup.

Talks were to resume between the two sides in Burkina Faso later this year. However, the rebels accused the government of failing to make good on its promises under the deal. Separatist sentiment remains high in Kidal, and the presence of the Malian soldiers since June has been highly controversial.

Tuaregs in northern Mali have sought autonomy dating back to the country's independence from France in 1960. The government has put down several rebellions over the years, though the one sparked in early 2012 allowed separatists to make their greatest gains to date.

After the March 2012 coup in the capital, al-Qaida-linked jihadists also sought to control northern Mali and temporarily sidelined the separatist rebels. After a French-led military intervention ousted the radical Islamic militants from power, though, the NMLA began reasserting itself in Kidal.

New Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won the election in an August runoff, has made reconciliation a priority for his new government, even naming a minister responsible for the effort and for developing the north.