Rebels urge UN to remove 'security zones' in northern Mali

A soldier is seen patrolling a road between Gao and Kidal, in northern Mali, in 2013 (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard)

Bamako (AFP) - Mali's main Tuareg rebel group on Wednesday urged the United Nations to lift "all the security zones" set up in the country's north in response to deadly clashes between rival groups that have threatened to unravel a newly agreed peace deal.

Three days of fighting between pro-government Tuareg militants and Tuareg rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) prompted UN peacekeepers on Tuesday to install a 20-kilometre (12-mile) safe zone around the town of Kidal to protect civilians.

The worst clashes took place on Monday as loyalist fighters from the Platform coalition seized control of Anefis, about 120 km south of the CMA stronghold of Kidal.

In a statement, the CMA asked the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to immediately remove "all the security zones established" and "let the different parties settle their differences".

The group claimed that security zones had been installed in a number of northern towns and cities, although MINUSMA's announcement only mentioned the one around Kidal.

The Platform alliance said 15 people were killed in the recent clashes, while a MINUSMA security source told AFP the unrest had left at least 10 dead.

The Platform and CMA groups are both signatories to a peace deal that was finalised in June with the aim of ending decades of ethnic divisions and uprisings by Mali's Tuareg.

An uprising by the traditionally nomadic people in 2012 allowed Al-Qaeda-linked militants to seize Mali's vast desert north for nearly 10 months, until they were ousted in a French-led military offensive in 2013.

While the Malian government did not go so far as to outright criticise MINUSMA's move to create a security zone, it urged the peacekeeping mission on Tuesday to "stay within its role of protecting all the people in the exposed areas".

"Any unfair treatment will produce adverse effects in the search for peace and harmony," it warned.