U.N. holds talks to calm north Mali town as armed groups clash


The U.N. mission in Mali said on Monday it was holding emergency talks between armed groups who have fought gunbattles in a town in northern Mali.

Tuareg MNLA separatists attempted to take Tabankort and fighters from the Arab Azawad Movement, which pushed them back during clashes at the weekend, a military source said. The MNLA say the Arab Azawad Movement is a pro-government militia.

The town is majority Arab. Ethnic Arabs in northern Mali are increasingly at odds with the MNLA, which is seeking a form of self-rule for the northern region it calls Azawad.

MNLA sources accuse the militia of attacking them several times since a peace deal was signed in May, triggering fears the clashes could spiral in a region that has seen years of violence.

They said people had been killed and injured in the fighting, but gave no toll.

Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the MINUSMA mission, said shots were fired over the weekend and on Monday in the area of the town, in which it has a presence, but gave no details of casualties.
“We are exerting all efforts to prevent the situation from escalating,” Achouri said in an email in reference to Tabankort, which is about 200 km (130 miles) north of the town of Gao.

An MNLA spokesman told Radio France Internationale on Monday that MINUSMA troops should leave the area.

Tuaregs have risen up against the Bamako government four times in five decades.

Bamako and a medley of armed groups agreed to the preliminary peace agreement in May. Negotiations are due to resume in Algiers shortly.