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UN sets up security zone around north Mali town after clashes


malian-soldiersUN peacekeepers deployed around the northern Mali town of Kidal on Tuesday to set up a 20-kilometre “security zone” after days of deadly clashes between rival armed groups, security sources said.

The peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, is hoping to prevent fighting from spreading to the strategic town after several people were killed in clashes that the UN said were a “blatant violation” of a recent peace deal.

“We have begun establishing the security zone 20 kilometres around Kidal,” a UN official in the city told AFP.

Residents of Kidal, 1,500 kilometres (750 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, reported seeing two UN helicopters, while peacekeepers from Bangladesh and Guinea headed to the outskirts of the town.

The establishment of the safety zone comes after three days of clashes around Kidal between pro-government fighters and Tuareg rebels of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA).

The worst fighting took place on Monday in Agnefis, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Kidal.

A MINUSMA security source told AFP the clashes had left at least 10 people dead and many injured.

Fahad Ag Almahmoud, a top official from the pro-government GATIA alliance, spoke of 15 deaths.

The CMA confirmed the clashes but did not provide a toll.

The two groups accused each other of starting the fighting over the weekend, breaching a peace deal signed by the governmental camp on May 15 and the rebels on June 20.

“We are very worried about the future, especially because it seems both sides are using heavy weaponry,” a foreign security source in the region told AFP.

– ‘Tension palpable’ –

The source said that during Mali’s rainy season, many of the roads become impassable in the north and groups end up fighting each other for control of roads used for trafficking.

“There has been no fighting on Tuesday but near the town of Touzik (where fighting began Saturday) tension is palpable,” said a MINUSMA source.

MINUSMA said in a statement Monday the security zone would “remain until further notice”.

Any movement within the zone by pro-government Tuareg forces or their allies “will be deemed to constitute an imminent danger to the security of the population of the town of Kidal”, it said.

The peacekeeping force would “act in accordance with its mandate” in the event of any violation, it added.

MINUSMA also said it would carry out investigations to determine responsibility for the ceasefire violation and forward the findings to the UN Security Council.

Mali was shaken by a coup in 2012 that cleared the way for Tuareg separatists to seize towns and cities of the north, an expanse of desert the size of Texas.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants then overpowered the Tuareg, taking control of the region for nearly 10 months until they were ousted in a French-led military offensive.

The vast desert region is now controlled by a patchwork of armed groups, loyal to the government or the separatist Tuareg.

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