Rebels push UN from airport in north Mali, burn vehicles

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2015 11:28 AM

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Tuareg separatist protesters in Mali said Wednesday they pushed the U.N.'s mission from an airfield in Kidal in the north, burning generators and tearing down tents.

Tuareg protester Moussa Ag Ali said they chased soldiers from the airfield and set fire to at least two generators.

"They fled to their camp," he said of the peacekeepers.

Protester Ismail Ag Rhissa said demonstrators tore down tents that shelter some of the U.N. mission.

"The soldiers of MINUSMA fired tear gas and warning shots, but they could not stop us," he said.

The U.N. has not commented on the demonstrations.

The protests happened after a Dutch attack helicopter with the U.N. mission fired upon a car near the town of Gao, killing four rebels on Tuesday. That violence took place near Tabancort north of the town of Gao and is the first time that the U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, carried out such air strikes.

Alhousseini Ag Goumeye, a military official with the Tuareg separatist rebel group NMLA, said six missiles were fired on the car, killing four militants.

The U.N. mission said its forces had to fire Tuesday after they came under "direct heavy fire." In a statement, the mission said the action was in line with its mandate to use force to protect civilians and urged the rebels to respect a cease-fire.

Northern Mali fell under control of Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention in 2013 scattered the extremists, but some remain active and there have been continued bursts of violence.

U.N. troops are now trying to stabilize the north, and peace talks have begun between the Malian government and Tuaregs, who maintain a heavy presence in Kidal and have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government. Al-Qaida is not participating in those discussions.