UN peacekeepers come under fire in north Mali near Timbuktu
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Armed separatist fighters fired upon U.N. peacekeeping vehicles near Timbuktu in northern Mali on Tuesday, U.N. officials said, marking a further setback for the country’s fragile peace process.
The peace negotiations are due to culminate next month with an agreement to be signed with the government.
The violence comes just a day after clashes erupted in the town of Menaka, prompting complaints that a pro-government militia there had violated the terms of the tentative cease-fire reaffirmed back in February.
The U.N. said it believed the fresh violence Tuesday had been carried out by elements of the CMA, a coalition of separatist Tuareg groups who have been active in the area.
“These two events are extremely worrying because they put the peace process in danger,” said Mongi Hamdi, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali. “At this hour, we are trying to establish the facts.”
Fighting also broke out just outside the town of Menaka on Tuesday, said a local official. Clashes between armed groups allied with the government and Tuareg fighters started about 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from Menaka on the road to Kidal, but further details weren’t available, said a U.N. official with the mission in Mali. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press.
Algeria has mediated several rounds of peace talks between the Malian government and various Tuareg groups that have sought greater autonomy for the country’s northern region, which they call Azawad.
Tuareg rebel groups seized control of northern Mali in early 2012 but then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist militants won control shortly afterward. Troops from former colonizer France later led a military offensive to dislodge the extremists. The U.N. peacekeeping mission later followed and has come under growing attack in recent months.