Malian Soldiers Clash with Tuareg Fighters Near KidalJune 5, 2013 in Africa, Mali
A spokesman for Mali’s army has indicated that the country’s soldiers have clashed with secular separatist Tuareg fighters in a town south of the rebel-held regional capital of Kidal, a city which has been under the control of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) since February of this year when Islamist militants fled. This is the first time that the Malian army has fought against the Tuareg separatists since France launched its intervention in January of this year. A number of on the ground sources have indicated that the Malian army is eager to ensure that Kidal, which is located in the far north of Mali near the border with Algeria, is under the government’s full control before the presidential elections take place on 28 July. However the Tuareg separatists have indicated that they will not allow Malian authorities into Kidal ahead of the polls.
According to reports, Malian troops attacked militant positions in the town of Anefis, which is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Kidal. The attack was part of an operation to retake the city from the ethnic Tuareg MNLA. According to Malian army spokesman Souleymane Maiga, “our troops have engaged armed bandits in the Anefis area who have suffered heavy losses of men and vehicles.” The clashes have been confirmed by the MNLA, with vice-president Mahamadou Djeri Maiga stating that “the Malian army has attacked our positions this morning in Anefis. It decided to resolve the situation through war and the Malian government will bear the consequences.” He further indicated that “we never wanted to resolve the situation by war, but as this is so, we will defend ourselves until the end.” The vice-president of the MNLA is currently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where he is in talks with Malian officials over the staging of Mali’s upcoming elections. However this recent unrest has cast a shadow over the these talks.
Although France has begun to withdraw some of its 4,000 troops from Mali, after driving Islamist groups from the main towns and cities of the north, attacks and uprisings continue to occur throughout the country, resulting in officials debating wether or not the country is prepared for an early withdrawal. In turn, this incident has further indicated that animosity between the varying ethnic groups in Mali still exists and may slow down the country’s unification process.
Last week, there were protests in the northern city of Gao, in which France was accused of favoring the minority ethnic Tuareg group by allowing the continued occupation of Kidal. In turn, the latest incident comes just one day after a suicide bomber blew himself up on Tuesday at the house of an MNLA leader in Kidal who is suspected by the Malian army of being an informant for the French military. According to a military source, “the suicide bomber was waiting for someone in the (MNLA) colonel’s house when he was caught by some youths and set off his bomb. He is dead and there is one person wounded.”