BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s separatist rebels attacked an army convoy in the north on Monday, killing at least 9 soldiers, the government said. The separatist group says it killed 30 soldiers.
Mali’s Defense Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly said that defense forces were ambushed by members of the Coordination of Azawad Movements near the town of Tin Telout. Nine Malian soldiers died and 14 others were injured, he said.
“To the bereaved families, the minister offers condolences and profound compassion,” he said.
Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane, spokesman for the coalition of separatist groups, also known by the acronym CMA, said they killed 30 soldiers in the attack.
Civilians were caught in the crossfire between the separatists and soldiers, said Radhia Achouri, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Mali. She did not give a casualty figure.
“An army patrol was attacked by an armed group,” about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Timbuktu, on the road to Goundam, she said.
The U.N. mission is giving medical aid to civilians and the army, she said.
Armed groups allied with the government attacked and took over the northern town of Menaka two weeks ago, and the separatist groups have launched a surge of attacks since, saying the cease-fire had been broken. The violence threatens a peace accord meant to be signed May 15 between Mali’s several armed groups, separatists and the government.
The U.N.’s special representative in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, condemned the attack.
“The violence must immediately cease and I urge all parties to demonstrate their commitment on the ground to the process that is leading to the signature of a peace accord on May 15,” he said, calling it the only viable way to end the security crisis that has gripped the country.
Tuareg rebel groups seized control of northern Mali in early 2012 but then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist militants won control shortly afterward. Troops from former colonizer France later led a military offensive to dislodge the extremists.