Resident: Mali army, rebels exchange fire in Kidal

A Malian soldier stands in front of French soldiers on mission in Mali during the inauguration ceremony of Mali's new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the Stade du 26 Mars stadium in Bamako September 19, 2013. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

BAMAKO, Mali: Residents in Kidal say the Malian army and separatist rebels are exchanging gunfire in the heart of the northern town.

The violence Sunday marks the first time the two sides have fought openly in the provincial capital since the rebels said they were suspending participation in a peace accord.

There had been reports of skirmishes in a remote area near the Mauritanian border but Sunday's violence erupted in front of a bank.

An Associated Press reporter could hear gunfire in the background while talking by telephone with residents in the remote town, which has remained largely under the control of the separatists.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

An explosion went off Sunday afternoon in the northern Malian town of Kidal near a former storage facility for the United Nations World Food Program. No casualties were reported, and authorities said it may have been an accident.

News of the explosion, however, rattled residents a day after suicide car bombers struck the town of Timbuktu, killing two people and wounding seven others.

Hubert de Quievrecourt, a communications adviser with the French military, said The incident in Kidal on Sunday took place near the headquarters of the Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, the name they give to their homeland.

"We think it's an accidental explosion caused by the poor handling of an explosive device but the circumstances are not yet clear," he told The Associated Press. "What is certain is that no one was killed or wounded."

The force of the explosion blew apart the roof of the building where aid supplies had been stored, said Daouda Maiga, a civic leader in Kidal.

French forces along with members of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in northern Mali arrived at the scene of the explosion and set up a security perimeter around it.

"We don't know too much about what has happened but we don't think anyone was there at the time of the explosion," said Mazou Toure, a spokesman for the Tuareg rebel group that remains largely in control of Kidal.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the name the Tuaregs call their homeland, recently withdrew from a peace accord they had signed with the government. The agreement had allowed for the Malian military to return to the town, where their presence remains highly controversial.

The deal also allowed for the July presidential election to proceed, the first since a March 2012 coup accelerated the chaos in the long democratic West African nation. In the aftermath, the secular Tuareg rebels and radical al-Qaida-linked jihadists both took control in northern Mali. The Tuareg rebels later retreated until a French-led military intervention ousted the jihadists from the country's northern provincial capitals.

On Saturday, two people were killed and seven others wounded in Timbuktu after suicide bombers blew up their vehicle near a military camp. The attack also struck near the famous Djingareyber Mosque, which is on list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, condemned the attack, which could have heavily damaged the mosque.

"UNESCO is determined more than ever to pursue the work of rehabilitating the cultural heritage of Mali and safeguarding its ancient manuscripts," Bokova said.

In a separate attack on Friday in Kidal, a grenade was thrown at a bank, wounding two security officers, said Kidal zone commander Mamary Camara.





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