Tuareg separatist rebels on Friday threatened to pull out of peace talks and suspended coordination with the United Nations mission in northern Mali after seven of its fighters were killed in an attack by U.N. forces.
Dutch helicopters carried out air strikes on MNLA forces on Tuesday in the town of Tabankort, the first such engagement by Dutch forces serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The Tuareg MNLA movement is besieging Tabankort, as desert town located about 100 km (60 miles) north of Kidal, in an effort to capture it from a pro-government militia. A contingent of U.N. peacekeepers protecting civilians is also stationed there.
The MNLA is involved in peace talks with the Malian government taking place in Algeria, with the next round planned for Feb. 8.
“Before the 8th, we require the government army and their militia fighters to withdraw from the positions they seized -including Tabankort- after the cease-fire signed on May 23” MNLA spokesman Mossa Ag Attaher told reporters in the Moroccan capital.
“We want formal apologies…compensation for families and a firm commitment from MINUSMA to remain neutral as a condition of resuming our coordination with them,” he added.
About 450 Special Forces troops, intelligence agents and four Apache helicopter gunships from the Netherlands have been deployed in northern Mali as part of a force of up to 12,000 men.
MINUSMA said it was responding to heavy weapons fire directed at its peacekeepers. It said the helicopters only destroyed a rebel vehicle after firing warning shots that were ignored.
MNLA said they were attacked first and denied warning shots had been fired.