Bamako - Four electoral officials and a deputy mayor were kidnapped by suspected Tuareg separatists in northern Mali on Saturday, officials said, adding to tensions stirred by ethnic clashes before next week's presidential vote.
Earlier on Saturday, Mali's government accused the MNLA rebels of violating a ceasefire deal this week after four people died in clashes between pro-separatist Tuareg youths and black Africans in the northern town of Kidal.
The local representatives of Mali's Independent National Electoral Commission and the deputy mayor of Tessalit were kidnapped by armed men just outside the desert town on Saturday morning, the prefect said.
"It is the MNLA who are responsible. They are the only armed group here aside from the French and the Chadian army," he said by telephone. "They are trying to sabotage the elections."
The July 28 presidential vote, pushed for by France and Western donors, is meant to draw a line under a military coup last year that led to a 10-month seizure of northern Mali by al Qaeda-linked rebels.
A French-led campaign launched in January broke the Islamists' grip over northern Mali.
Civic advocacy groups and some local politicians have warned that, with government administration in northern Mali in tatters, the country is not yet ready to hold an election.
The two days of clashes in Kidal also saw shops looted and vehicles burnt. Malian troops and UN peacekeepers restored calm on Friday.
"Armed men attacked the population favourable to Mali in the town of Kidal, killing four people," the government said in a statement.
The clashes were a violation of June's truce signed in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, it said.
The MNLA separatist group said on Saturday its fighters were not involved in the violence and that they had honoured the Ouagadougou agreement.