Jihadists hit Mali army base in Timbuktu

Malian troops backed by French forces on Sunday clashed with Islamist fighters who had infiltrated the northern city of Timbuktu, leaving two jihadists dead and four Malian soldiers wounded, an army officer said.

“Jihadists have infiltrated the centre of Timbuktu... Our men are currently fighting them with the support of a unit of our French partners,” a Malian officer siad over telephone.
“Two jihadists have been killed and four Malian soldiers have been injured. That’s the provisional toll,” the officer said, adding the fighting “is not yet over”.

The Islamist fighters who had controlled the fabled Saharan city before French and Malian soldiers recaptured it in January have been able to blend into the population to launch attacks, infiltrating it by foot or bicycle.

The officer said fighting began when the Islamist rebels opened fire on two sides of the centre of the city, targeting a hotel serving as the temporary residence for the region's governor as well as a Malian military base.

A Malian security source said the governor and two foreign journalists had been among the people evacuated from the targeted hotel.

Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military intervention in January against al-Qaeda-linked groups that had seized the north of the country.

The French-led operation has forced the extremists from the cities they seized in the chaotic aftermath of Mali’s military coup in March 2012. Meanwhile, Mali’s interim leader Dioncounda Traore has appointed Mohamed Salia Sokona — a former government minister and retired ambassador — to head a new commission tasked with fostering reconciliation in the conflict-torn west African nation.

And, France’s Defence Minister Laurent Fabius, who is due to visit Bamako on April 5, welcomed the first appointments made to the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission (DRC), calling it “an important step toward political reconciliation”.

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