BAMAKO: The presidents of France and Mali warned of a possible “terrorist” resurgence in the Sahel as they met in Paris Tuesday after fresh fighting between insurgents and the military in the African nation.
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is cutting short his visit to France after the clashes with Tuareg rebels fighting for autonomy in the north of his country.
He told his French counterpart Francois Hollande Tuesday that reconciliation was his priority, after the talks with the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) collapsed.
“The Franco-African intervention put an end to the terrorist threat, but it could try to rebuild ... we must remain vigilant,” the two leaders said in a joint statement released by Hollande’s office after the talks.
The meeting between the two leaders came against a backdrop of deteriorating security in Mali, where a car bomb attack claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb killed two civilians and wounded several soldiers Saturday, according to the army.
Calm returned Tuesday to the rebel bastion of Kidal after fighting between the MNLA and the army, but tensions remained high, a military source from the U.N.’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali told AFP.
The MNLA, the main Tuareg group involved in peace talks between rebels and the government, which broke down Thursday, said three of its fighters had been wounded during a gunbattle Sunday which lasted more than an hour.
The clashes in Kidal came after Tuareg rebels had pulled out of the talks, dealing a blow to hopes for a durable peace in the troubled West African nation.
The MNLA took control of Kidal in February after a French-led military operation ousted Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had piggybacked on a Tuareg rebellion to seize most of northern Mali.
The Malian authorities reclaimed the city after signing a cease-fire deal with the MNLA, but the situation has remained tense.
While the MNLA remains a largely secular cause, Mali has suffered a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military operation in January against Al-Qaeda-linked groups occupying the north of the country.
Four suicide bombers blew up their car at a military barracks in the desert city of Timbuktu Saturday, killing two civilians in an attack claimed by AQIM.
A spokesman for the North African group praised “two of our brave suicide bombers,” whom he said had detonated “more than a ton of explosives,” according to the Mauritanian Al-Akhbar news agency.
The spokesman said the explosion killed 16 soldiers and wounded many more, contradicting the army’s statement that four suicide bombers were in the car when it exploded and two passers-by were the only people killed.
Dozens of disgruntled soldiers involved in Mali’s 2012 coup fired guns in the air at a protest Monday, wounding and taking hostage a close aide of mutiny leader Amadou Sanogo, military sources said.
The soldiers, who are based in the garrison town of Kati, near the capital Bamako, are unhappy at not having been promoted alongside colleagues also involved in ousting then-president Amadou Toumani Toure in March last year.
Early Tuesday, the family of the hostage, Col. Habib Diallo, told AFP he had been released and taken to hospital suffering from bullet wounds to his leg.