At least one dead in Mali protest against foreign forces
At least one civilian was killed Monday during a protest against foreign peacekeepers in the Malian city of Kidal, underlining simmering tensions between the local population and UN and French troops based in the area.
Local protesters had forced their way onto an airport runway used by UN and French soldiers supporting domestic forces as they battle marauding bandits and a jihadist insurgency, according to several sources.
A source within the UN mission told AFP that "at least one civilian was killed" as angry demonstrators protested about day-to-day "harassment".
The UN mission in Mali, also referred to by its acronym MINUSMA, confirmed that the demonstration had taken place but said in a statement that reports of anyone being wounded or killed were "being verified".
"The protesters forced their way onto the airport runway around 1000 GMT, a restricted area, ransacking the place and setting fire to security facilities," the UN force said in its statement.
A Kidal resident told AFP that UN troops had "fired on the crowd" in the troubled northern city, which provides a base for the foreign contingents.
France's Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014, deploys 3,500 soldiers across five countries in the Sahel region to maintain cross-border security following the ousting of jihadists from key towns in Mali's north.
The MINUSMA mission is the most deadly active deployment for UN peacekeepers and has also suffered internal tensions since its launch in July 2013.
The ex-rebels of Mali's Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA), which has a significant presence in the area, said two protesters were killed and several injured.
The CMA said the demonstrators had "not respected the usual procedures" of peaceful protest but also called for an immediate inquiry into who had fired the lethal shots.
The group was mostly composed of women and young people angry at what they considered to be frequent cases of arbitrary detention, according to the ex-rebels.
Meanwhile a Guinean MINUSMA soldier told AFP the protesters were calling for the release of three men who were arrested in connection with the killings of French soldiers last week.
It was believed the trio had links with "terrorists who recently laid the mines that killed three French soldiers," according to the Guinean.
The UN said it was in contact with the local authorities with the aim of easing tensions, promising "total transparency" in subsequent reports on the incident.
In January 2015 three protesters were killed by MINUSMA police in the city of Gao in an anti-UN protest.
Mali's vast, desolate north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.
The Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led operation preceding Barkhane in January 2013, although they have since launched sporadic attacks on security forces from desert hideouts.
© 2016 AFP