Protesters Clash with Rebel Rulers in Northern Mali Town

Posted June 26th, 2012 at 12:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Witnesses in northern Mali report a clash between protesters and one of the armed groups that controls the area's major cities.

A youth leader in the city of Gao tells VOA that members of the Tuareg separatist group MNLA fired on about 200 protesters who had marched to the group's local headquarters Tuesday.

He says one person was killed and 12 others were injured, two of them seriously.

The protest was sparked by accusations that the MNLA killed an elected official, Idrissa Oumarou, on Monday after he resisted an attempt to steal his motorcycle. Tuesday's march was preceded by Oumarou's funeral.

Mali's interim government said in a statement that Oumarou's killing was “encouraged” by the insecure environment in rebel-occupied regions, and vowed that his death will not go unpunished.

A VOA reporter who visited Gao last week, Idriss Fall, reported tension between locals and the armed groups, which include the MNLA and Islamist group Ansar Dine.

Several residents said they could not forgive the groups for looting or destroying many buildings during their takeover of the town in April.

The takeover happened a few days after soldiers overthrew Mali's elected government in Bamako.

VOA's Fall reported that life in Gao, a city of 85,000, is difficult, with food, water and electricity all scarce.

The MNLA (Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) has launched an effort to reconcile with locals, holding meetings with youths and broadcasting a radio appeal for forgiveness.

The armed groups in Mali's north are bracing for possible counterattacks from the interim Malian government or newly-formed counter-insurgency group, known as the Northern Mali Liberation Front.