Mali says army has repelled Islamist attack

Tue Jan 8, 2013 5:57pm EST
 
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By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's army repelled an attack on its advance positions by heavily armed Islamist groups moving southward, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, in the first clashes since militants seized the country's north in April.

In a communique, the ministry said government forces had clashed with fighters from al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM as well as the Ansar Dine and MUJWA Islamist movements late on Monday close to the town of Mopti, 450 km (280 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako.

Convoys of pick up trucks carrying Islamist fighters had been reported moving southwards towards Mopti, which has a large military barracks and airport.

One of the mostly northerly towns still controlled by the government, Mopti lies at the bottleneck between Mali's arid north and the more populous south.

"The armed forces have driven off this attempted attack," said the ministry statement, read out on Malian radio and television.

Military sources had earlier said the army had simply fired warning shots from heavy artillery from its advanced positions to dissuade the rebels from advancing further.

The capture of the northern two-thirds of the arid West African nation by the loose coalition of Islamist groups has sown fears among Western and regional powers that Mali could become a haven for radicals to plot international attacks.

It was not immediately clear whether the rebels' southward push toward Mopti was an attempt to take the town or simply a show of force ahead of peace talks this week. Rebel spokesmen have declined to comment on their tactics   Continued...