Tuareg rebels have abducted several civil servants from a northern Malian town during fighting that claimed a number of lives. The attack occurred during a visit by the country's prime minister.
Malian officials said on Sunday that around 30 civil servants and soldiers were missing after fighting on Saturday between separatist militants and the army in the rebel-controlled city of Kidal, 1,500 km (900 miles) northeast of the capital, Bamako.
They said the fighting broke out on Saturday outside the regional governor's office as Mali's Prime Minister Moussa Mara was visiting the town in a bid to revive long-delayed talks with northern armed groups.
"About 30 of our personnel have been reported missing since yesterday. We do not know their fate. We also do not know exactly how many of them are being held by the rebels," a source in the governor's office said.
Malian Defense Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said eight soldiers were killed and 25 injured in the fighting, while 28 rebels lost their lives.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg rebel group, said in a statement that one of its fighters was wounded and four Malian soldiers killed.
Mara was reportedly forced to shelter in an army base during the fighting.
The violence was condemned by MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali.
"Such developments are counterproductive and contrary to the will of the people of Mali, who aspire to peace and lasting stability," the statement said.
Kidal was the scene of anti-government protests on Friday and Saturday ahead of Mara's visit.
Mali, a former French colony, was thrown into turmoil in 2012 when al Qaeda-linked Islamists took advantage of a Tuareg-led rebellion to seize control of the country's north.
A French-led military operation, known as Serval, drove back the Islamists last year, but some Tuareg separatists continue to fight sporadically for the independence of their homeland in northern Mali, which they call Azawad, despite a June peace deal.
tj/jm (AFP, Reuters)