Fri, May 23, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Mali leader urges ceasefire, orders period of mourning

AFP, BAMAKO, Mali

Mali’s president called for a ceasefire in the restive north of the country and ordered three days of mourning beginning today as Tuareg separatists said they had captured more than a key desert bastion after reportedly slaying several soldiers.

Tuareg militants are said to have killed the soldiers during clashes in the rebel-held town of Kidal on Wednesday, a UN source told reporters, as a rebel leader said three armed groups had also taken other northern towns.

After clashes during the day, “the situation is calm tonight in Kidal,” which is under the control of rebel groups, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid told reporters from Kidal.

“We took several towns from where the army fled without a fight,” he added, listing Anderamboukane, Menaka, Aguelhoc, Tessalit and Anefis.

Mohamed Ag Rhissa, one of the MNLA leaders, said by telephone that his group had taken “control of the whole town of Kidal” and that “we have prisoners.”

The fighting shattered an uneasy calm that had held since the MNLA took 32 civil servants hostage during a battle that left eight Malian soldiers and 28 rebels dead.

“The noise of gunfire has stopped... There are prisoners and deaths among the Malian army’s ranks,” a source from MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, told reporters, adding that the rebels appeared to have the upper hand.

The fighting first broke out during a visit to Kidal on Saturday by Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara, whose government is backed by French soldiers who have helped dislodge rebels and armed Islamic extremists from the desert north.

The government has said that the MNLA is being backed in Kidal by Islamist fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and others.

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita called for an “immediate ceasefire” in the fighting in Kidal that had left “several wounded and caused the loss of human life,” Mali’s government said in a statement.

Keita’s plea was “in line with requests by the UN secretary-general and [made] in the name of the international community,” said the statement that was read on ORTM public TV by Malian government spokesman Mahamane Baby.

“Our men are still on the ground fighting the joint forces of AQIM, MUJAO and other militants. That’s all we can say at the moment,” a Malian defense ministry source had said earlier.

Alghabass Ag Intalla, secretary-general of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, said his group and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) had also played a key role in the fighting.

“This morning, we were the first to have been attacked by the Malian army. So we took up our responsibilities. We mobilized the MNLA and MAA and together we took control of the city,” he said.

The 32 hostages had been freed on Monday as 1,500 Malian troops poured into Kidal, sent to restore government control to the bastion of the Tuareg separatist movement, 1,500km northeast of the capital.

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