BAMAKO (Reuters) - At least three Malian soldiers were killed on Monday in a dawn raid by rebels south of the desert town of Timbuktu, officials said, despite a partial signing of a peace deal last week.
The violence erupted in Bambara Maounde, some 100 km (60 miles) south of Timbuktu, another sign of violence spreading beyond the northern strongholds of the various rebels still active despite the deployment of French and United Nations troops in Mali.
A U.N. military source, who asked not to be named, said three government soldiers had been killed and one wounded. A Malian army source gave a similar toll.
Mohamed el Maouloud Ramadane, a senior figure in the Arab MAA faction of CMA, the separatist rebel coalition, claimed the raid on recently deployed soldiers and gendarmes in the area. He said it killed at least 10 security personnel.
Souleymane Maiga, a spokesman for Mali's military, confirmed the early morning attack but gave no further details.
The CMA alliance, made up of Tuareg and Arab-led rebels fighting in Mali since 2012, have committed to Mali's peace process. But they refused to sign a deal last week with the government and its allied armed groups.
The repeated clashes risk undermining what diplomats hope would be a step towards pacifying Mali's north, which has been gripped by violence since a separatist rebellion began in 2012.
The uprising, the latest in a series since independence in 2006, was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamists, forcing a French military intervention in early 2013.
A diplomatic spat between U.N. and Malian officials has also overshadowed the signing of a partial deal.
Shortly after the ceremony to mark the deal, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita called on the U.N. mission to be fairer in its handling of the north, where many Malians complain it has not done enough to tackle the rebels.
Herve Ladsous, the top U.N. peacekeeping official in Bamako to witness the ceremony, hit back over the weekend. The U.N. mission was fulfilling its mandate to try to help end cycles of rebellion, he said, but Malians had to play their role in restoring confidence.
"It is up to Malians themselves to mobilize themselves to once and for all end this crisis that has lasted too long and keeps coming back," he said.
Ladsous also complained there was not enough recognition of the losses the U.N. mission had suffered in Mali, where 35 peacekeepers have been killed and some 155 injured in under two years.
Reporting by Souleyemane Ag Anara, Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Larry King