Mali is only just recovering from a March 2012 military coup and an Islamist insurgency that prompted France to send troops to its former colony.
Fighting between Mali’s army and separatist Tuareg rebels resumed in the Northern city of Kidal, the UN mission in Mali said on Wednesday, as its mediation efforts fails.
The fighting broke out in the morning, a spokesman for the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, MNLA, which is seeking independence for Mali’s north said.
“The Malian army fired first. We are reposing, its war,’’ MNLA’s Moussa Ag Assarid said.
A Defence Ministry spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the reports are credible.
MINUSMA, which had tried to mediate a truce since fighting first began on Saturday, also confirmed the new round of hostilities.
“It started with several loud bangs. I am not sure if they hit anything. We are terrified but we have been afraid for several days.
“We are just hiding in our houses,’’ a Kidal resident said via telephone.
The fighting comes after the MNLA released 28 Malian government officials it had held hostage in Kidal.
The government employees were taken hostage on Saturday after rebels occupied the governor’s office in the northern Malian town.
Prime Minister Moussa Mara had left the building moments before the kidnapping.
An MNLA spokesman told reporters that the men were released to the Red Cross “for humanitarian reasons’’ and as “a gesture to the Malian people.’’
Earlier on Monday, machine gun blasts erupted in Kidal as the UN tried to broker a truce between the army and the rebels.
A speech on state television by President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita in which he called for peace failed to defuse the tension that had mounted over the weekend.
The violence has persisted since the MLNA rebels attacked the government building on Saturday, angry that the administration had not kept its promise to negotiate with them on the future of the region.
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.
This was signed in June 2013 in the neighbouring Burkina Faso.
But the start of the negotiations had been postponed numerous times.
MINUSMA, the UN mission to Mali, condemned the killings as “a barbaric act.’’
Former colonial power, France, this week sent an additional 40 troops to Kidal to offer support to MINUSMA peacekeepers.
France recently reduced its military presence in Mali from 4,500 to 2,300 soldiers, expecting Mali to move toward lasting peace and stability after democratic presidential and parliamentary elections in late 2013.
On Saturday, dozens of combatants, two residents and six local government officials were killed in Kidal.
The fighting was sparked by the prime minister’s visit to Kidal, the first such visit by a leading government member to the key northern town since France’s military intervention last year.
The impoverished West African country is recovering from a March 2012 military coup and an Islamist insurgency that prompted France to send troops to its former colony.
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