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Several rebel groups in battle for northern Mali: security source

A coalition of rebel militias fought together to wrest control of the flashpoint town of Kidal from Mali's army, an African security source said Thursday, a day after it fell to armed separatists.

BAMAKO: A coalition of rebel militias fought together to wrest control of the flashpoint town of Kidal from Mali's army, an African security source said Thursday, a day after it fell to armed separatists.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUC) claimed on Wednesday to have captured the bastion of the Tuareg separatist movement, slaying several soldiers.

The source told AFP that the HCUC was the main force among "separate armed groups were involved in the fighting against the Malian army", adding that the MNLA and Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) also took part.

Military operations against militant groups in Mali are complicated by the fact that fighters move between separatist and Islamist causes, while even the Malian army employs thousands of former Tuareg rebels.

The HCUA was formed by dissidents from the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine militia, led by the Malian Islamist commander Iyad Ag Ghaly.

Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa occupied the desert north, a vast chunk of land which makes up nearly two thirds of the country, for ten months before they were ousted by a French-led military intervention in January 2013.

Malian soldiers in Kidal exchanged fire with militants over several hours on Wednesday, gaining a decisive upper hand.

The government admitted its forces had been "weakened by problems with coordination, intelligence" and were forced to retreat under heavy fire from "rebel groups supported by AQIM terrorists and drug traffickers".

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita called for an "immediate ceasefire" in the fighting in Kidal that had left "several wounded and caused the loss of human life", the government said in a statement.

The government did not reveal how many lives had been lost but an MNLA leader said there were four dead and eight wounded on the rebel side while there were "several" deaths injuries and prisoners taken among the army.

The rebels also claim to have peacefully taken control of a number of smaller nearby settlements, including Menaka, Aguelhoc and Anderamboukane, although this could not immediately be independently verified.

Residents contacted by AFP and a source from MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, described Kidal as "calm" on Thursday.

"The Malian government forces no longer hold any positions in the city," the MINUSMA source said.

In Bamako, several organisations have announced demonstrations against the "occupation of Kidal", some accusing France and the UN of apathy in the face of Tuareg aggression.

A French school in Bamako did not open on Thursday, according to a message from the French consular authorities in Mali.

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