Army and militants clash in conflict-scarred Mali
11/08/2013 21:28 GMT
BAMAKO, November 8, 2013 (AFP) - Insurgents launched an attack on the Malian army in the rebel-hit country's northeast on Friday, military sources said, in renewed fighting ahead of planned peace talks with the government.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), ambushed soldiers as they were on patrol at a market near the border with Niger, several military sources based across the country told AFP.
Mali's defence ministry later issued a statement saying that "a patrol of the Malian armed forces was challenged by armed bandits in Egazargane, a locality located 140 kilometres (86 miles) from Menaka".
It did not identify the assailants, but said that three of them were killed and four injured. One soldier was also injured, the ministry said.
"A vehicle, two motorbikes, armaments, munitions and communication material were seized" from the attackers, it added.
A source in the north told AFP by telephone earlier that "the MNLA death toll was three, and six were taken prisoner and a vehicle was seized.
"On the Malian army side, one soldier was wounded. Right now everything is back to normal," added the source.
The clash followed three attacks by the MNLA on soldiers in the rebel stronghold of Kidal in September, after the militants pulled out of peace talks with the government, dealing a blow to hopes of a durable peace in the troubled west African nation.
The collapse of the talks led to an upsurge in violence which saw two French journalists shot dead last week during a kidnapping in Kidal claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The chief suspect in the kidnapping is a Tuareg thought to have associated with both AQIM and the mainly secular MNLA.
The Tuareg, traditionally a federation of nomad tribes who rebelled in Mali and Niger in the 1960s and the 1990s, are seeking some kind of self-determination for the north.
The Bamako government strongly opposes Tuareg autonomy but is scheduled to hold talks with the desert people in November, according to an agreement signed in June in Burkina Faso, on a date yet to be agreed.
The MNLA took control of the region in February after a 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 Kidal after signing a ceasefire deal with the MNLA but the situation has remained tense.
The MNLA announced on Monday that it was merging with the Arab Movement of Azawad and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad to form a united front in any peace talks with the authorities in Bamako.
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