Mali’s prime minister has said his country is “at war” with a group of Tuareg rebels after an attack on a northern town left soldiers dead and around 30 civil servants abducted.
Above: a Tuareg man holds the MLNA flag in July 2013
Prime Minister Moussa Mara was visiting the northern town of Kidal on Saturday when fighting broke out. He was forced to take shelter as Tuareg separatists attacked and seized a regional governor’s office.
If they attack us… we’ll fight back. MLNA spokesman Attaye Ag Mohamed
“In light of this declaration of war, the Republic of Mali is henceforth at war,” Prime Minister Mara told a Reuters reporter inside the base overnight.
“We are going to formulate the appropriate response to the situation.”
At least one soldier was killed and 23 wounded in the fighting, which took place all day and eased overnight. The MLNA rebel group claimed control of the town on Sunday, and said eight Malian soldiers had been killed. The MLNA claimed it had taken around 40 prisoners.
“We’ve taken about 40 prisoners, including high-ranking military officers and civil servants. They’re all safe and sound and doing well,” MLNA spokesman Attaye Ag Mohamed said.
“The town is completely secured by us…The army are back inside their base. If they attack us, however, we’ll fight back.”
The Tuareg are a nomadic group of Berber people who live mainly in the Saharan areas of Mali, Niger and Algeria.
Mali, a former French colony, was thrown into turmoil in 2012 when al Qaeda-linked Islamists took advantage of a Tuareg-led rebellion and seized control of the country’s north.
A French-led military operation, known as Serval, drove back the Islamists last year but now the Mali government’s focus has turned back to the Tuareg rebels.
MINUSMA, a nearly 13,000-strong United Nations peace-keeping mission, is being established in the country but is not yet at full-strength – and Prime Minister Mara criticised both the UN and the French for failing to prevent the attack.
“You were witnesses today to the more than passiveness of these forces,” he said. “The very least we’d expected from MINUSMA and Serval was that they’d ensure the governor’s office wasn’t attacked.”
A UN spokesman on Sunday declined to comment on the events in Kidal.