At least three killed in anti-UN protest in restive Mali

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Three people are killed in northern Mali after a second day of demonstrations against the United Nations military mission in the restive west African nation. Duration: 00:42

At least three killed in anti-UN protest in restive Mali

Three killed in anti-UN protest in Mali

/ Bamako (Mali) – 27 January 2015 19:34 – AFP (Serge DANIEL) – 3RDLEAD

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Three people were killed in northern Mali on Tuesday after a second day of demonstrations against the United Nations military mission in the restive west African nation, concurring sources said.

Witnesses described a huge crowd of angry youths throwing stones and attempting to storm the MINUSMA headquarters in Gao to protest the UN taking control of a troubled area north of the city.

“Here in the morgue in Gao we have at least three dead protesters, some killed by gunshot wounds… There are also several serious injuries,” a hospital official told AFP.

An official in the ministry for security and civil protection confirmed the deaths, adding that the situation remained “very tense”.

“Our officers were besieged by protesters this morning, but I can tell you that no one from MINUSMA fired on the demonstrators. Absolutely no order was given to use weapons,” Arnaud Akodjenou, deputy representative of the MINUSMA force told AFP.

“We are in very close contact with the Malian authorities,” he added.

A youth leader in Gao rejected the statement, however, blaming UN troops for the deaths.

“MINUSMA shot at us. MINUSMA killed civilians. We demand the departure of MINUSMA from Mali,” Ousmane Dicko, of the Youth Collective activist group told AFP, reporting “at least three dead and 15 wounded”.

– ‘Self-defence’ –

An independent source contacted by AFP described how youths had climbed onto MINUSMA vehicles while others threw petrol bombs at MINUSMA soldiers.

“It was on the verge of a riot. It’s very tense, I heard gunshots,” the source said.

The crowd was protesting an agreement concluded at the weekend to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the Gao region.

The area is controlled by pro-government militias who have clashed in recent weeks with armed rebels, leading to the deaths of both fighters and civilians.

The creation of the zone “will force loyalist armed groups to disarm or abandon their posts,” a local government source told AFP.

Loyalist armed movements “strongly encouraged” the demonstration, the source said, referring to the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group, as well as a pro-government wing of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and various vigilante groups.

The agreement between MINUSMA and three rebel groups — the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and an anti-government wing of the MAA — places the zone under exclusive control of UN troops and guarantees “the free movement of people and goods”.

The bloodshed comes after MINUSMA helicopters destroyed a rebel vehicle near Tabankort, north of Gao, in “self-defence” on January 20 following what it described as “direct fire with heavy weapons” on its peacekeepers.

– ‘Convenient scapegoat’ –

Rebel groups said the action violated UN neutrality, adding that seven militants had been killed and 20 wounded.

The strikes sparked demonstrations hostile to MINUSMA in the northeastern rebel stronghold of Kidal.

Algeria and the UN, who are leading mediation talks between the government and rebels, said the violence in Tabankort threatened to jeopardise the peace process.

Malian political analyst Mamadou Samake told AFP people in Gao felt MINUSMA was failing in its peacekeeping mission.

“The security situation is worsening in Tabankort, Kidal, pretty much everywhere. The locals feel like they are dealing with an influx of tourists rather than welcoming people who have come to defend Mali.” he said.

Jean-Herve Jezequel, principal analyst for Mali at the International Crisis Group in Dakar, defended MINUSMA, however, describing the force as “a convenient scapegoat”.

“Even if errors have been committed in the mission — which an investigation can confirm — it must be recognised that the work of the MINUSMA is complicated,” he told AFP.

“It is both a military stabilisation force that helps the Malian government to restore its authority and a facilitating force for negotiations between the parties in conflict, including the same Malian state. This multidimensional mandate is difficult to reconcile,” he added.

Tags : Mali, Restive, protest, Antiun, killed, three, Least

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