DAKAR (Reuters) - The chief of the most powerful Tuareg tribe in northern Mali died on Thursday, signaling a change of leadership as Tuareg separatists are locked in peace talks with the government.
The 87-year-old patriarch Intallah Ag Attaher, who had led the Ifoghas tribe for several decades, died in the desert town of Kidal after a long sickness, residents said.
His son Alghabass ag Intallah is expected to succeed him as tribal leader and the head of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), the name separatists use for northern Mali.
“The town is calm but you can hear the cries of women,” said one resident. “He will be buried tomorrow morning beside his father.”
In 2013, Alghabass split from the Tuareg Islamist movement Ansar Dine and called for negotiations to end a simmering conflict in northern Mali.
Ansar Dine was part of a coalition of Islamist groups that seized control of northern Mali in 2012 in the wake of a Tuareg separatist uprising. A French-led offensive in early 2013 smashed the Islamist enclave.
Peace talks in Algeria between separatist groups and the Malian government are due to restart in January, after three previous rounds of talks ended in November without a breakthrough.
U.N. troops arrested two men in northern Mali on Thursday after three Chadian peacekeepers were injured when their vehicle hit an explosive device, the U.N. mission said.
Reporting by Adama Diarra; Editing by Grant McCool