World Bulletin / News Desk
Fighters seized control of the headquarters of the local separatist rebels in the north Mali town of Gao on Wednesday after a bloody battle that killed at least 20, residents said.
The battle follows weeks of tension between the separatist Tuareg-led MNLA and better-armed local Islamists who helped it take control of the northern two-thirds of Mali in April.
"The Islamists are now controlling the situation because they are the only ones driving around in the town, some in their vehicles and others on vehicles they have recovered from the MNLA," Gao resident Moktar Toure told Reuters by telephone.
"But we live in fear of an MNLA counter-offensive against the Islamists even though they are trying to reassure people that it is over," Toure said.
A spokesman of the Islamist Ansar Dine group said their fighter had taken control of the governor's residence and chased away MNLA fighters.
One witness told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that the former governor's residence in Gao which the MNLA had turned into the "palace" of the northern territory it calls the independent state of Azawad, had been heavily damaged by heavy arms fire during the battle.
"The MNLA and MUJWA are launching rockets at each other between the two markets of the town and the governor's building," Gao resident Sila Askou said by telephone of the governor's premises in which the MNLA has set up headquarters.
Gao resident Habsatou Cisse said by telephone she saw five bodies from the house in which she was sheltering. Others reported 11 bodies and four bodies in separate locations. They said civilians were among those killed but had no other details.
Separately, residents in the northern town of Timbuktu 300 km (200 miles) to the west, said they had seen armed convoys of the local Ansar Dine Islamist group - a MUJWA ally - racing to Gao.
"We are going to obliterate the MNLA today," local Islamist Ousmane Toure said by telephone. "Enough is enough."
Malick Aliou Maiga, another resident contacted by telephone, said the MNLA headquarters had been badly damaged in the battle, which started around mid-morning.
MNLA spokesmen based in Mali and in Europe were not immediately contactable for comment but one member of the group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack on the headquarters had been repelled.
"Either the MUJWA backs off or we are heading towards an all-out armed confrontation," said the MNLA member.
Refugee crisis has led to formation of right-wing terrorist groups, security service warns
Gibraltar is currently in talks with Scotland to discuss the possibility of remaining part of the EU
- Rifaat al-Assad, Syria's vice president in the 1980s, has also been accused of embezzlement
Emergency session at European Parliament prompts angry exchanges between EU leaders and eurosceptics over the Brexit
Senate set to vote on eform package on Tuesday 6 pm, before National Assembly takes it up next week
UK capital needs greater powers following Brexit decision, Sadiq Khan says
As UK's Conservative Party prepares for post-Brexit leadership race, British leader David Cameron travels to Brussels
Talks on Chapter 33 which deals with financial and budgetary provisions to begin on Thursday, Turkey's EU ambassador confirms
Detractors say new report does not increase Rousseff’s chances of returning to office
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised the prospect of a new EU referendum and has announced that he may be a possible candidate to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.
Hamas has thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support following a reconciliation pact with Israel
Israeli police have temporarily closed Al-Aqsa mosque until Thursday after clashes occurred between IDF soldiers and Muslim worshippers
Kremlin says Turkish leader pledges to repair diplomatic relations after November incident near Turkey-Syria border.
Long-running legal fight se Jacob Zuma ordered to repay money spent on non-security upgrades to private residence
US Secretary of State predicts 'even stronger NATO going forward' following UK's vote to leave EU
Lithuania, concerned about losing a strong defender of Russian sanctions in the EU, has called for a gradual British exit from the EU that preserves ties with London.