Mali reinforces position after fighting

2013-06-06 19:17


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Bamako - Mali's army on Thursday reinforced its positions at Anefis, a strategic access point for the rebel-held town of Kidal, after a day of heavy fighting, military sources said.

"We are reinforcing and consolidating our positions at Anefis while waiting for favourable conditions to pursue the operation" towards Kidal in the northeast, army spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Souleymane Maiga told AFP.

"Since yesterday (Wednesday), the whole Anefis sector has been under the total control of the army," a regional military source confirmed.

"The Malian soldiers who entered Anefis have not left the zone for Kidal," added the source. Anefis is about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Kidal.

Kidal, a town prized by the Tuaregs, has been occupied by the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) since the end of January.

But Mali's army has declared its intention to recapture the town before a presidential election due across the divided west African country on 28 July.

Wednesday's fighting at Anefis erupted after more than 100 black inhabitants were expelled from Kidal, while many others were arrested by the lighter-skinned Tuaregs of the MNLA in an act denounced as "ethnic cleansing" by the Bamako government.

In a new casualty toll issued Thursday, the army said that the fighting left "30 dead" on the rebel side and two Malian soldiers wounded.

The MNLA challenges these figures, stating that one fighter was killed and two wounded on its side, while one vehicle was destroyed.

Spokesperson Mahamadou Djeri Maiga said Thursday that "the Malian army lost six vehicles which we blew up with many men inside. There were several dead on their side."

"If the abuses continue, the army will have to pursue its march on Kidal, then move up to Tessalit," further north, Lieutenant-Colonel Maiga said, but he added that "we are aware that a chance has to be given to dialogue".

The Bamako government on Wednesday night announced "its readiness for dialogue to recover the national unity and integrity of the territory", in a statement.

It added that the "objective sought" by the military offensive is "to bring back peace and security to the whole of the national territory, to promote the return of the administration".

It also aims to ensure that the presidential poll is held "in a secured environment on the planned date".

Malian authorities and representatives of the Tuaregs occupying Kidal are due to meet Friday in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou for direct negotiations mediated by Burkinabe authorities, despite the clashes on Wednesday.

The Malian army in January received help from a French-led military intervention to fight Tuaregs and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists who had seized the main cities in the north, but pulled back out into the desert.

The French then let the MNLA back into Kidal, raising fears in Bamako, 1 500 kilometres to the southwest, that Paris wants to let the Tuareg rebels keep Kidal as part of an eventual deal for self-rule for the northern desert territory they call Azawad.

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