BAMAKO — Malian soldiers and separatist rebels exchanged gunfire in the heart of the northern town of Kidal on Sunday, a dangerous escalation in violence only days after the rebels said they were suspending their participation in a peace accord signed with the government. Both sides claimed that the other attacked first.
It was the first time the two sides have fought openly in a provincial capital since the announcement last week made by the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, which is composed of ethnic Tuareg rebels. There had been reports of skirmishes in a remote area near the Mauritanian border recently, but Sunday's gunfire erupted outside a bank near the town's market.
An Associated Press reporter could hear the shooting in the background while talking by telephone with residents in Kidal, which has remained largely under the control of the separatists even after the return of the Malian military in June. Prior to that, the soldiers had retreated in the face of a 2012 rebellion by the ethnic Tuaregs.