Bamako - Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will on
Tuesday cut short a visit to France amid renewed fighting between insurgents
and the military in the African nation.
Insurgents launched a fresh attack against the Malian army
in the rebel bastion of Kidal on Monday, the military told AFP, after weekend
violence following the breakdown of peace talks.
Keita will meet French President Francois Hollande on
Tuesday morning as scheduled but will then return home, shortening his trip by
two days, a source in his entourage in Paris said.
"The situation demands his presence and if it wasn't for
the meeting [with Hollande] he would already have returned," he added.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA),
which is fighting for autonomy in northern Mali, ambushed soldiers at a bank,
the scene of a fierce firefight on Sunday night, a senior Malian army officer
"Our position at the bank in Kidal was attacked early
this [Monday] morning by MNLA troops. We responded and we have brought the
situation under control," the officer said.
Panicked residents ran back into their homes in the busy
downtown area as gunshots rang out around 07:00, an aide of the regional
governor Adama Kamissoko said.
An African military source from the UN's MINUSMA
peacekeeping force in Mali told AFP around four hours later that the fighting
had stopped but he was not able to say if there had been injuries or deaths.
"MINUSMA has arrived and calmed the situation for the
moment. MINUSMA will take control of the bank, and the Malian army has agreed
to leave," he said.
"We have asked each side to go back to its own camp,
including reinforcements from the Malian army and rebels who arrived in the
city yesterday. The situation is calm for the moment."
The MNLA, the main Tuareg group involved in peace talks
between rebels and the government which broke down on Thursday, said three of
its fighters had been wounded during Sunday's gun battle, which lasted more
than an hour.
The clashes in Kidal followed two attacks on soldiers -- one
by an Al-Qaeda-linked group -- since Tuareg rebels pulled out of the talks,
dealing a blow to hopes of a durable peace in the troubled west African nation.
Disgruntled troops take hostage
The mainly secular MNLA took control of Kidal in February
after a French-led military operation ousted al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had
piggybacked on a Tuareg rebellion to seize most of northern Mali.
The Malian authorities reclaimed the city after signing a
ceasefire deal with the MNLA but the situation has remained tense.
While the MNLA remains a largely secular cause, Mali has
also suffered a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France
launched its military operation in January.
Four suicide bombers blew up their car at a military
barracks in the desert city of Timbuktu on Saturday, killing two civilians in
an attack claimed by the north African group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
An Aqim spokesperson praised "two of our brave suicide
bombers", whom he said had detonated "more than a ton of
explosives", according to the Mauritanian Alakhbar news agency.
The spokesperson said the explosion killed 16 soldiers and
wounded many more, contradicting the army's statement that four suicide bombers
were in the car when it exploded and two passers-by were the only people
Dozens of disgruntled soldiers involved in Mali's 2012 coup
fired guns in the air at a protest on Monday, wounding and taking hostage a
close aide of mutiny leader Amadou Sanogo, military sources said.
The soldiers, based in the garrison town of Kati, near the
capital Bamako, are unhappy at not having been promoted alongside colleagues
also involved in ousting then-president Amadou Toumani Toure in March last
Early on Tuesday, the family of the hostage, Colonel Habib
Diallo, told AFP he had been released and taken to hospital suffering from
bullet wounds to his leg.