Bamako – UN peacekeeping force official confirmed on Tuesday in Bamako that 23 Malian government officials who had been held hostage in Kidal by Tuareg rebels had been released.
The official said the hostages, most of them civil servants, were taken when rebels launched an attack in the town of Kidal to coincide with a visit by the country’s Prime Minister, Moussa Mara.
It said the hostages were in a reasonable condition, “but very weak’’.
Moussa Ag-Assarid, Spokesman of the Separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said the men were released to the Red Cross for humanitarian reasons and as a gesture to the Malian people.
He said they were released in good faith even though there were more than 300 Tuaregs.
Ag-Assarid said most of them were not fighters but simple herdsmen being held by the government of Mali.
A source said on condition of anonymity that since Monday, machine gun blasts had erupted in Kidal even as the UN tried to broker a truce between the army and the rebels.
He said the violence had persisted since the MLNA rebels attacked the government building on Saturday.
He said the rebels were angry because the administration had not kept its promise to negotiate with them the future of the region.
The source noted that the planned negotiations between the government, MNLA, and other Tuareg groups that demand independence for northern Mali were promised as part of a road map for peace signed in June 2013 in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
He said that the start of the negotiations had been postponed numerous times.
He said that there had been ongoing fighting since Saturday, with dozens of combatants killed and scores taken captive in skirmishes between Malian soldiers and rebels in Kidal.
The Malian Army, who confirmed the fighting, said eight of its soldiers and 28 MNLA fighters had been killed.
But the UN said eight civilians, two residents and six local government officials had also been killed in the ongoing fight. (dpa/NAN)