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French soldier wounded in Mali's Kidal

29 May 2013, 12:06

Bamako – A French soldier was lightly wounded when an unidentified gunman opened fire on a French military patrol Tuesday in the troubled Malian city of Kidal, the last major city in the country's north which remains under the de facto control of a rebel group, despite the presence of French special forces at a base nearby, officials said.

The attack comes as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with Mali's interim government in the capital, Bamako, where he praised them for having set a July 28 date for the much-anticipated presidential election.

The government announced the date in an official communique Monday, making no mention of how the election will be held in places like Kidal, which is controlled by the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, a Tuareg separatist group which has threatened to attack if Mali's military attempts to approach the town.

French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said that the soldier was "lightly injured" during the shooting. He said that it was not immediately clear who had shot him.

The Deputy Mayor of Kidal Abda Kazina said that the incident occurred between 15:00 and 16:00 on Tuesday in the Aliou neighborhood of Kidal, and that the shooter had not yet been identified or apprehended.

Fabius said he was optimistic about the date, and said he was confident that the various logistical challenges can be answered before the poll.

Besides the fact that Kidal remains out of government control, hundreds of thousands of Malians are living in refugee camps in the neighbouring nations of Mauritania, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Niger. It's unclear what accommodations, if any, will be made for them to vote.

France is pushing Mali to hold the election, in the hopes that the transition of power will pave the way for French forces to leave Mali. France intervened militarily in January in order to stem the advance of al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups, who had seized a Texas-sized chunk of territory last year.

"Mali's flag will be planted in Kidal. The governor will be in Kidal," Fabius promised during his stop in Bamako. "In terms of the election, things are at an advanced stage. In terms of dialogue, things are moving along. In terms of security things are moving along. I think that we are on the right path."

He added that an accord had been put in place with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee which will allow Malian refugees to vote inside refugee camps. He also said that negotiations are now taking place between the NMLA and the Islamic Movement for Azawad, a second rebel group in Kidal. The various sides are meeting with mediators in neighboring Burkina Faso.


- AP


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