BAMAKO (AFP) – Fresh fighting broke out in the streets of the Malian rebel bastion of Kidal on Monday, the local government and residents told AFP, after Tuareg separatists and the army exchanged gunfire the night before.
“The shooting has resumed in the centre of Kidal. Shots were fired around 7:00 am (0700 GMT). We do not know what is happening at the moment. But this is the same place as on Sunday,” an aide of the regional governor Adama Kamissoko said.
A resident confirmed that fighting had resumed in the city centre.
“We can’t see anything. Everyone in the area has gone back into their homes. We do not know what is happening. We are afraid,” he said.
The Malian army came under attack in central Kidal on Sunday from fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the main Tuareg group involved in peace talks between rebels and the government which broke down on Thursday.
The exchange ended more than an hour later with the MNLA saying three of its fighters had been wounded.
Sunday’s firefight followed two militant attacks on soldiers since Tuareg rebels claiming autonomy for northern Mali pulled out of the talks, dealing a blow to hopes of a durable peace in the troubled west African nation.
Kamissoko’s office said international troops and UN peacekeeping forces already present in the city had been deployed after the attack to protect the town hall, where the governor lives and works.
The MNLA accused Mali troops of “flagrant aggression”, saying in a statement that its chief, who was badly injured, had been leaving his vehicle with his hands raised when the army fired.
That incident led to exchanges of fire as the rest of the unit responded, the statement added.
Mali has suffered a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military operation in January against Al-Qaeda-linked groups occupying the north of the country.
Four suicide bombers blew up their car at a military barracks in the desert city of Timbuktu on Saturday, killing two civilians and wounding six troops, less than 24 hours after militants threw grenades at the army in Kidal, wounding two soldiers.
But no Islamist group has claimed any of the recent attacks, with the spotlight falling on the MNLA.
The group took control of Kidal in February after the French-led military operation ousted Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had piggybacked on the latest Tuareg rebellion to seize most of northern Mali.
The Malian authorities reclaimed the city after signing a ceasefire deal with the MNLA but the situation has remained tense.