Gunmen, army clash in central Mali; at least 3 killed


Gunmen attacked the central Mali town of Tenenkou on Friday, killing at least three people during an intense gun battle with members of the army, local and military sources said.

Mali is still recovering from a period of turmoil that began in 2012 when al Qaeda-linked fighters took over its desert north before a French military operation a year later scattered them. In recent months, these fighters have intensified their attacks.

About 20 gunmen entered Tenenkou on motorbikes early on Friday and opened fire on Malian soldiers who then responded in a three-hour gunfight, a local government source said.

He added that the attackers cried “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) upon arriving, suggesting they were Islamist fighters, although other armed separatist groups also operate in Mali.

A Malian military source said at least three people were killed, among them two Malian soldiers and a civilian. A source in the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA said that at least five people died and that its troops were on their way to the town.

Some of the attackers are now in Malian custody and others have been pushed back, a Defence Ministry statement said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tuareg separatist group MNLA said that its members had fought with pro-government militias in Tabankort, northern Mali, on Friday. It was not immediately clear if there were fatalities.

MINUSMA said in a statement it had seen armed groups heading toward the area on Friday, calling it a violation of the terms of an earlier ceasefire, and asked them to retreat.

Separatists in northern Mali have risen up against the Bamako government four times in five decades. Peace talks between Bamako and separatist groups on the future of the troubled region are due to resume shortly in Algiers.