BAMAKO - Fighting has broken out in northern Mali between Tuareg separatists and local Arab-led gunmen, only days after the African country won a $4.2 billion aid pledge to help it recover from a conflict with Islamists affiliated to al-Qaida.
Rebel and military sources both confirmed the clashes, although they differed over precisely which groups were involved.
The violence highlights how pockets of fighters who escaped a four-month French-led offensive against the al-Qaida-linked militants in the north are undermining efforts to restore state authority ahead of a presidential election set for July 28. France said this week the 'terrorists' had been defeated.
The MNLA, a Tuareg rebel group, said its forces were attacked in the town of Anefis by a column of Islamist fighters on Friday. Its Paris-based spokesman, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, said fighting continued on Saturday morning, with two of the group's fighters and at least seven Islamists killed so far.
The MNLA said it was fighting MUJWA, an Islamist group that occupied the town of Gao for months until earlier this year and has launched a series of guerrilla-style counter-attacks on the town since it was retaken in the French offensive.