BAMAKO/DAKAR– Pro-government armed groups in Mali seized the northern town of Menaka from Tuareg separatists on Monday during fierce fighting, a spokesman for the group and a resident said.
The vast region has been hit by insurgencies over the last five decades, with rebels fighting for independence or a form of self-rule from the government in the south.
The most recent uprising in 2012 came when Tuareg rebels formed an alliance with Islamist militants to briefly seize control of the northern two-thirds of Mali.
Militants from the Gatia pro-government group and the Arab Azawad Movement (MAA), a faction of a northern Arab militia also favourable to the government camp, attacked the town on Monday morning, a Gatia spokesman said.
The raid was in retaliation for attacks on the group’s supporters, including the lynching of several women, he said.
Menaka lies around 200 km (125 miles) east of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, close to the border with Niger. It had been controlled by the main Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
“At this hour, the MNLA flag is no longer flying above Menaka,” Gatia spokesman Medhi Ag Almoubareck said, later adding that fighting continued after nightfall.
Ten MNLA fighters were killed in the clashes and another seven were taken prisoner, while Gatia had recorded no losses, he said. There was no immediate independent verification of the claims.