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Fighting with Tuareg rebels erupts in Mali’s north
May 19, 2014, 9:24 am

A file photo shows a UN peacekeeper stationed outside a polling station in Bamako. Elections were held last July and August and the new government has been trying to hold peace talks with Tuareg rebels [AP]

A file photo shows a UN peacekeeper stationed outside a polling station in Bamako. Elections were held last July and August and the new government has been trying to hold peace talks with Tuareg rebels [AP]

Military sources in Mali have confirmed that their troops, supported by special forces, have launched a campaign to retake the northern town of Kidal, which was seized by Tuareg rebels on Saturday.

Fighting broke out when newly elected Prime Minister Moussa Mara visited Kidal, known to be controlled by the Tuareg, as part of a tour of the north in a bid to revive peace talks between the government and various armed groups.

Tuareg rebels seized a government building shortly after Mara had visited there and dozens of people were killed in the ensuing fighting.

“Eight members of the armed forces were killed and 25 were wounded, while 28 of the attackers were killed,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

“In light of this declaration of war, the Republic of Mali is henceforth at war,” Mara later told Reuters.

Mali had descended into chaos in the wake of a March 2012 coup by military officers who were unsatisfied with the way the civilian administration was dealing with a Tuareg rebellion seeking independence in the north.

The military campaign was halted thereby creating a vacuum, which was quickly filled by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine rebels who pushed back the Tuareg and then imposed a severe strain of Islamic law; they then began to capture towns in their southward push.

The United Nations Security Council dispatched a French military mission to pave the way for the deployment of an all-African military force including troops from Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria to repel the rebels.

French President Francois Hollande had termed the Mali crisis as a terrorist threat on Europe’s doorstep.

French troops had successfully pushed the Islamists out of the territories they occupied, killing hundreds of them in the process. Others fled into the desert and mountains.

This allowed Mali to hold free democratic elections in July 2013. The newly elected government has been meeting with various rebel groups to pave way for comprehensive peace talks that could offer the north some form of autonomy.

In mid-February, the first round of UN sponsored talks between the Malian government and rebel groups of the north began in earnest and concluded with an agreement that rebel fighters would be confined to barracks in 30 locations across the country, as negotiations take place to find a peaceful end to the longstanding conflict.

Shortly after, the French and German governments announced that they will send troops from a joint military brigade to Mali, to help fight rebel groups in the West-African country and terminate the looming threat.

The announcement, which came after a security and defense meeting in the French capital in February, also said that the troops would reinforce a mission sent to Mali in Feb 2013 to help train the country’s troops to battle internal threats, and also generally enhance counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Several relief agencies have warned of another threat to Mali’s overall stability, an impeding food crisis, with 800,000 citizens already in need of urgent assistance.

Source: Agencies

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