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UN and AU seek cease-fire in north Mali town

May 23, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The African Union’s chairman and a senior U.N. official held talks Friday with armed groups in the key northern Mali town of Kidal, where separatist Tuareg rebels routed Malian soldiers earlier this week, to urge an end to the fighting.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the AU chairman, and Albert Koenders, the top U.N. envoy in Mali, traveled to Kidal to urge the armed groups to agree to an immediate cease-fire. They were also meeting traditional authorities in Kidal, he said.

Dujarric said that in addition to trying to get a cease-fire, Koenders is also working to try to resume political talks and ensure evacuation of wounded citizens and Malian soldiers.

The Malian government’s weak response to a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 inspired mutinous soldiers to launch a coup. The coup plunged Mali into chaos that allowed the Tuareg, a traditionally nomadic people, to take over half of the country’s north as a new homeland. Months later, the rebels were expelled by Islamic jihadists, many linked to al-Qaida fighters.

When the Islamic militants started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive in 2013 that routed the rebels. But Tuareg separatists have retained a strong presence in Kidal despite army efforts to push them out.

Last weekend, when Mali’s new prime minister decided to visit Kidal, the Malian army bolstered its force, and fighting broke out between government soldiers and Tuareg MNLA rebels. The rebels seized government buildings, killed at least eight civilians and took more than 30 hostages who were later released.

French forces evacuated the prime minister. Koenders said Tuesday that two U.N. peacekeepers and 21 international police officers with the U.N. force were injured while supporting Malian security forces during and after the prime minister’s visit.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali reported that 59 injured Malian soldiers, four of them seriously wounded, are being treated at the U.N. camp in Kidal, Dujarric said Friday. The U.N. mission also retrieved wounded Malian, MNLA, and civilians from Kidal Hospital and evacuated them by air from Kidal to Bamako on Thursday for more urgent treatment, he said.

Some 3,400 people have reportedly fled from Kidal and civilians are reportedly moving throughout the north in response to rumors of attacks by armed groups “and fear of inter-communal reprisals,” Dujarric said.

He said the U.N. mission is planning to airlift the equivalent of 14 days of supplies including food, water and tents to Kidal on Friday and to repatriate the wounded on the return flight.

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