Suicide attacks kill at least nine people in north Mali

Fighting between armed groups vying to control Tabankort has broken out several times this month

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A suicide bomb attack near the contested Malian town of Tabankort killed at least nine people overnight, Tuareg rebel sources said on Wednesday, as violence intensified in the desert north of the West African country.

The weak Bamako central government is struggling to restore its authority on northern zones where a medley of armed groups operate as well as al-Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgents who briefly occupied the region in 2012.

Fighting between armed groups vying to control Tabankort has broken out several times this month, prompting the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA to carry out airstrikes on Tuareg rebel forces.

“The suicide bombers walked out of Tabankort last night and they exploded when they reached an MNLA battalion,” said Mossa Ag Attaher, spokesman for the main Tuareg rebel group MNLA, adding that 12 people had been killed.

Two other rebel sources said that between nine and 13 people had died in the attack and subsequent clashes that they said pitted a coalition of separatists against pro-government militia which included members of the MAA group of Malian Arabs.

Tuareg sources said the bombers were from a pro-government militia that include members of MAA who have fought on both sides.

Malian army sources also reported an attack just north of Tabankort and confirmed several fatalities but denied the assailants were suicide bombers. MINUSMA, which has a mandate to protect civilians in the town, declined to comment.

The struggle over Tabankort risks derailing upcoming peace talks in Algiers over the future of northern Mali.

In a sign of high tensions, witnesses said U.N. peacekeepers on Tuesday fired live rounds at demonstrators protesting against a new security plan for the north, killing three of them.

MINUSMA said it knew of only warning shots being fired and it would launch an investigation. It has cancelled a disputed deal that involved the creation of a “temporary security zone” in northern Mali, and said it would seek other solutions.

Tuareg rebels have risen up four times in the past five decades in Mali in pursuit of greater autonomy or independence.

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