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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mali: Gunmen attack military camp near Mauritania border

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen attacked a military camp in western Mali on Saturday, exchanging shots with soldiers as residents of a nearby village hid in their homes, officials and witnesses said.

A witness said two soldiers were killed along with multiple assailants, though an official death toll was not immediately available.

The attack began at around 5 a.m. at the camp near the village of Nara, which is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with Mauritania, said army spokesman Col. Souleymane Maiga.

"The army repelled the attackers who had entrenched themselves in the village," Maiga said. "Until around 9 a.m. there were exchanges of fire between the army and the assailants in the streets of the village."

Nara resident Boughambi Traore said he saw the dead bodies of two soldiers from Mali's national guard along with those of multiple fighters. He said soldiers were patrolling the village Saturday afternoon looking for fighters hiding out there.

Civilians took shelter as soon as they heard the fighting, said Foussein Keita, another resident of Nara.

"Armed men are in the village. We are in our homes listening to automatic gunfire but we don't know what exactly is happening in the village," Keita said.

Maiga said the assailants were unknown. But a source in Mali's intelligence service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the gunmen were Islamic militants from the Peul ethnic group and were linked to Ansar Dine, one of the groups that took control of northern Mali following a military coup in 2012.

A French-led military intervention launched in 2013 scattered the Islamic extremists, though northern Mali remains insecure and in recent months violence has extended further south. In March a masked gunman opened fire in a restaurant popular with foreigners in Mali's capital, Bamako, killing five people.

Earlier this month Mali's main coalition of Tuareg separatist rebels signed a peace agreement with the government.

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