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Mali's army accuses Tuaregs of violating peace deal

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Mali's army has accused Tuareg rebels of violating a ceasefire by attacking civilians and the military just days after troops entered the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal to secure it for nationwide elections.

The Tuareg separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has occupied Kidal since January but has allowed the Malian army in as part of a peace deal brokered to pave the way for the July 28 vote.

But army spokesman Diarran Kone told AFP late Sunday the lighter-skinned rebels had mobilised women and children to throw stones at the black population, African peacekeeping troops and Malian soldiers.

"It's a serious violation of the peace accord," he said.

Kone said that when Malian troops entered the town on Friday, demonstrators "manipulated by the MNLA" wounded three African soldiers from the UN peacekeeping mission and stoned three Malian army vehicles, including an ambulance.

A French soldier was also "slightly injured" by a rock, according to several military sources.

Kone urged "impartial forces" -- meaning the French army and UN troops in Kidal -- "to speak out" against the breach of the peace accord.

The occupation of the town by the MNLA has been a major obstacle to organising the presidential election, seen as crucial to restoring normality after conflict which has crippled one of the world's poorest nations since the beginning of 2012.

Malian military officers staged a coup in March last year after being overpowered by an MNLA rebellion that seized key northern cities before being sidelined by its Al Qaeda-linked allies.

The Malian army received help from a French-led military intervention in January to fight the Islamists but pulled back out into the desert.

The French then let the MNLA back into Kidal, raising fears in Bamako, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) to the southwest, that Paris wants to let the Tuaregs keep the town as part of an eventual deal for self-rule for the northern desert territory they call Azawad.

An African military source in Kidal told AFP several dozen civilian refugees had gathered for protection at the military base in Kidal, where Malian, French and African troops are assembled.

Residents "are being subjected to reprisals" by armed Tuaregs for having expressed relief and joy when the first 150 Malian soldiers arrived in Kidal, the source said.

He expressed concern at the "climate of tension" in the town at a time when campaigning for the first round of the presidential poll was under way.

The 28 candidates for the presidency began making speeches across Mali as the campaign period began on Sunday -- including in the liberated northern cities of Gao and Timbuktu -- but none has yet made it to Kidal.

Witnesses said demonstrations for and against the presence of Malian troops have been taking place since Friday.

Meanwhile there is widespread skepticism about Mali's ability to stage credible elections, with the task of distributing more than seven million polling cards in a country where 500,000 people have been displaced viewed by many as an impossibility.

In the capital Bamako, presidential candidate Tiebile Drame, who helped negotiate the June 18 ceasefire accord in Burkina Faso's capital, officially asked the Constitutional Court to postpone the election, his lawyer Hamidou Diabate told AFP.

Diabate said the law had been broken because an "electoral college (the total number of voters) cannot be convened as long as the voters' lists have not been established" across the national territory. He argued that no electoral lists have been drawn up for the 13 constituencies in Kidal.

Previous demands for the postponement of the poll have been rejected by the government.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130708/malis-army-accuses-tuaregs-violating-peace-deal-0