Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will cut short a visit to France amid renewed fighting between fighters and the military in the African nation.
Fighters launched a fresh attack against the Malian army in the rebel bastion of Kidal on Monday, the military told AFP, after weekend violence following the breakdown of peace talks.
Keita will meet French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday morning as scheduled but will then return home, shortening his trip by two days, a source in his entourage in Paris said.
“The situation demands his presence and if it wasn’t for the meeting [with Hollande] he would already have returned,” he added.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which is fighting for autonomy in northern Mali, ambushed soldiers at a bank, the scene of a fierce firefight on Sunday night, a senior Malian army officer told the AFP news agency.
“Our position at the bank in Kidal was attacked early this (Monday) morning by MNLA troops. We responded and we have brought the situation under control,” the officer said.
‘Army has agreed to leave’
Panicked residents ran back into their homes in the busy downtown area as gunshots rang out around 7:00 am [0700 GMT], an aide of the regional governor Adama Kamissoko said.
An African military source from the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali told AFP around four hours later that the fighting had stopped but he was not able to say if there had been injuries or deaths.
“MINUSMA has arrived and calmed the situation for the moment. MINUSMA will take control of the bank, and the Malian army has agreed to leave,” he said.
“We have asked each side to go back to its own camp, including reinforcements from the Malian army and rebels who arrived in the city yesterday. The situation is calm for the moment.”
The MNLA, the main Tuareg group involved in peace talks between rebels and the government which broke down on Thursday, said three of its fighters had been wounded during Sunday’s gun battle, which lasted more than an hour.
The clashes in Kidal followed two attacks on soldiers since Tuareg rebels pulled out of the talks, dealing a blow to hopes of a durable peace in the troubled west African nation.