Gunfight between Mali troops wounds several in capital

A gunfight erupted Friday in the Malian capital as soldiers attacked a camp of elite paratroopers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, military sources and witnesses told AFP.

"From 6:00 am (local and GMT) heavily armed soldiers, from all units, attacked the camp," said Yaya Bouare, one of the "Red Beret" soldiers inside the camp that was attacked. "There are many injured inside the camp."

The latest clash between feuding Mali army factions came on the same day as a suicide bomber targeted soldiers in the northern town of Gao following the ouster the of radical Islamists.

Bamako residents living near the barracks confirmed the attack and one of them said the "Red Berets" had "fired shots in the air" overnight.

Bouare said the attack was linked to a declaration by army chief of defence staff General Tahirou Dembele on national television earlier this week, who ordered the paratroopers to the frontline of a French-led war with radical Islamists in the north.

"As we have this problem in the north on our hands, you will go and fight with your brothers in arms", he said, adding he had decided to incorporate the elite soldiers within other units.

But the paratroopers refused to join their new units, or to leave their camp.

The "Red Berets" formed part of an elite presidential guard protecting Toure, who was ousted in March last year by a group of "Green Berets" -- infantry and other units.

The coup came after soldiers from Mali's poor and ramshackle army were humiliated in the north by well-armed Tuareg fighters who launched a rebellion for independence in January.

A month after the presidential ouster, the paratroopers launched a failed counter-coup and fighting between the feuding factions left about 20 people dead.

With Bamako in disarray, the Tuareg and Islamist allies seized the entire north before the extremists chased away the secular Tuareg rebels and installed a brutal form of sharia law.

The Islamists' hold on the vast semi-arid zone, which sparked fears in the West it could become a new haven for Al-Qaeda-linked radicals, prompted France to intervene a month ago to drive the extremists out.