World Bulletin/News Desk
Around 30 civil servants were abducted by Tuareg MNLA separatists in Mali's northern town of Kidal during fighting on Saturday that also wounded 23 government soldiers, the governor of the region said on Sunday.
Fighting erupted early on Saturday ahead of the arrival of Prime Minister Moussa Mara, who was visiting Kidal for the first time since his appointment last month. He is seeking to revive long-delayed peace talks with northern armed groups.
"Some 30 of our civil servants were kidnapped by the assailants who attacked the governor's office. There were 23 wounded, including three seriously who were evacuated by helicopter," Adama Kamissoko told Reuters.
Mali is at war with armed Tuareg separatists, Prime Minister Moussa Mara said, after officials reported the rebels attacked the governor's office in the northern town of Kidal on Saturday, abducting around 30 civil servants.
"Taking into account this declaration of war, the Republic of Mali is henceforth at war," he told Reuters overnight inside a military base in the town where he sought refuge from the fighting. "We are going to formulate the appropriate response to the situation."
A Reuters journalist travelling with Mara saw the body of one dead soldier, which was brought to a Malian army base in the town where the prime minister was forced to spend the night.
A Malian military source said the gun battle erupted after MNLA fighters aboard two pick-up trucks attacked an army checkpoint in front of the governor's office.
A spokesman for the MNLA said the army attacked first, opening fire on the group's barracks following pro-independence protests in the town.
Mali, a vast landlocked former French colony of 16 million in West Africa, descended into turmoil when fighters took advantage of a 2012 Tuareg-led rebellion and seized control of the country's north.
French troops drove back the militants last year, elections were held and a U.N. peacekeeping mission is rolling out.
The trip to Kidal, a city 1,500 km north of the capital Bamako and seen as part of the Tuareg heartland, is symbolic for the government as it seeks to show that it has stamped its authority there.
"Long live a diverse Mali but one that is united and indivisible," Mara said on Twitter ahead of his departure.
Tensions between separatists and supporters of the government are a simmering undercurrent of daily life in Kidal, although flare ups have been relatively rare and the latest violence appeared to have been triggered by Mara's visit.
Kidal resident Assikadaye Ag Waezagane said at least 100 pro-independence protesters had gathered at the airport since Friday and at one point occupied the runway.
A Reuters journalist travelling with Mara on a tour of northern cities said the violence in Kidal prompted the delegation to take a U.N. peacekeeping (MINUSMA) helicopter to a military base there instead of a regular flight to the airport.
Military sources said a plane carrying representatives of the government ahead of Mara's visit had also been prevented from landing in Kidal on Friday.
Mara's group had been due to visit the local governor's office for a meeting but that was cancelled. An apparently injured Malian soldier lay beside the road about 50 metres from the office. It was not clear if it was the same soldier the army source referred to.
MINUSMA said 19 police and seven protesters had been injured since the protests started.
"MINUSMA strongly condemns acts of violence that have continued since yesterday morning in the city of Kidal," it said in a statement on Saturday.Last Mod: 18 Mayıs 2014, 14:05