Tuareg separatists seized a town in Mali’s desert north from a pro-government ethnic Tuareg militia after days of fighting, the separatists and a local legislator close to the government side said.
Fighting between rival Tuareg factions has intensified and threatens to derail a 2015 peace deal meant to end years of conflict and instability in the landlocked West African nation.
The rebel Co-ordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and the pro-government Gatia are locked in a power struggle in northern Mali, despite the return of state authority to its cities in March for the first time since a 2012 Tuareg uprising.
“Anefis has been under control of the CMA since yesterday. Preparations are being made to retake it,” Ahamoudane Ag Ikmasse, a Gatia-allied local lawmaker in the nearby major city of Kidal told Reuters.
CMA spokesman Redouane Ag Mohamed Ali confirmed Anefis, a Sahara desert town, had been taken.
“It was a CMA position retaken by Gatia in 2015. CMA now controls the Kidal region,” he said, although Ag Ikmasse disputed that.
Northern Mali was once a tourist hub owing to its history of caravan routes, gold and medieval Islamic scholarship.
But a Tuareg insurrection in 2012 created a power vacuum that turned it into a launch pad for jihadi attacks across the Sahara and the Sahel to the south.
Former colonial master France intervened a year later to push the Islamists back, but they are struggling to stabilise the country.
African powers backed by France launched a multi-national military force this month, primarily to tackle Islamist militants across the region, seen as the basis of an eventual exit strategy for around 4,000 French troops now deployed there.