Mali: 'MNLA rebels' attack soldiers in Kidal

Malian soldiers near Kidal (file image)
Image caption Tuareg rebels are said to resent the return of Malian soldiers to the northern city and former rebel stronghold of Kidal

Gun battles have erupted between Malian soldiers and suspected separatist rebels in the north, sparking fears that the violence could escalate.

Gunmen attacked soldiers guarding a bank in Kidal town, who returned fire.

Residents and an unnamed official said the gunmen were rebels from a Tuareg group who days ago announced they were pulling out of a peace deal.

June's ceasefire followed more than a year of fighting that prompted an intervention by French troops.

French troops remain stationed in northern Mali and the Malian army has controversially returned to Kidal, the country's only majority ethnic Tuareg town.

The provincial capital had been in the hands of rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) for months.

Spate of violence

Clashes have continued on Monday after first breaking out on Sunday, officials say.

"Our position at the bank in Kidal was attacked early this morning by MNLA troops. We responded and we have brought the situation under control," an unnamed Malian officer told the AFP news agency.

Regional governor Adama Kamissoko told AFP from Kidal that "a lot of shots" were being fired in the city, adding: "Armed men are shooting and the Malian soldiers have retaliated."

There was no information about casualties in the clash.

The clashes are the latest in a spate of violent incidents.

On Friday, two Malian soldiers were wounded in Kidal when a grenade was thrown at them.

On Saturday, at least two people were killed in Timbuktu, also in the north, when suicide bombers blew up a car near a military camp.

On Sunday, a local civic leader told Associated Press he had heard shots fired at the army camp near Kidal but there were no further details.

June's peace deal had permitted elections to take place and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was sworn in earlier this month.

He has pledged to reunite Mali following the Tuareg uprising, which prompted a takeover of the north by Islamist fighters and threw the country into turmoil until France intervened in its former colony in January.

But Tuareg rebels said on Thursday they were pulling out of the peace deal, accusing the Malian government of failing to live up to its promises including prisoner releases.