Bamako (AFP) – Islamists in the northern Mali town of Gao on Wednesday seized the headquarters of Tuareg rebels after a day of violent clashes between the two rebel groups, witnesses said.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) fighters had seized the governorate and the Tuareg rebels who had made it their headquarters “fled, others were killed, others arrested,” said the owner of a petrol station next to the building.
Issa Fane, a member of a citizens’ association in Gao confirmed the information: “I am in front of the governorate, the mujahideen (religious fighters) are inside, the are in control of the governorate and surrounds.” He said that Tuareg fighters for the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had been left “injured, dead and prisoners.”
A former Malian policeman, who has not worked since the various armed groups seized his town three months ago, confirmed that several MNLA members had been taken prisoner. “MUJAO is currently in control.
MNLA prisoners are at the police station, others have fled town, others were killed or injured, but it is total panic” in the movement, he said. These witnesses said the MUJAO rebels had later moved towards a military camp held by the MNLA near the Gao airport.Fighting erupted on Wednesday morning between the two rebel groups, who have held the town together since it was seized along with the rest of northern Mali in the wake of a March 22 coup in Bamako.