UNITED NATIONS, United Sates ,May 21- The UN Security Council called for an immediate end to violence in northern Mali after more than 30 people were killed in fighting between rebels and the army in a flashpoint town.
Tuareg separatists clashed with Malian soldiers in Kidal during a visit by Prime Minister Moussa Mara, whose government is backed by French soldiers who have helped dislodge rebels and armed Islamic extremists from northern towns.
The fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took 32 civil servants hostage but released them on Monday. The battle left eight Malian soldiers and 28 rebels dead.
“The members of the Security Council strongly condemned the violent clashes in Kidal on May 17 and 18,” the 15-member Council said in a statement.
“The members of the Security Council insisted on the need for those responsible for these actions to be identified and held accountable.
“The members of the Security Council called on all parties to act with restraint and refrain from any further violence that could threaten civilians.”
They also called for “sincere” peace talks and “reiterated that only a credible and inclusive negotiation process can bring long-term peace and stability throughout the country.”
Sources in the UN force assisting French and Malian forces in peacekeeping efforts in the restive north said several hundred people had fled their homes to Kidal to the relative safety of nearby desert camps
– Expanded mandate? –
Earlier Tuesday, Mali’s foreign affairs minister asked the Security Council to expand the peacekeeping mandate and efforts to disarm Tuareg rebels.
With the UN peacekeeping mission soon up for renewal, Abdoulaye Diop requested “a much more robust mandate, under Chapter VII of the UN charter” — which allows for the use of force.
This would enable the soldiers to “deal with threats on the ground and disarmament of all armed groups, in particular the MNLA,” he said.
Bamako will honor its commitments to hold “a sincere dialogue” aimed at a definitive peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels, Diop said.
But he accused the MNLA of colluding with terrorist groups, asking for Security Council condemnation.
Brandishing pictures of victims of the Kidal battle, Diop said flags of terrorist groups Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam) were seen “flying from the vehicles of the attackers, next to those of the MNLA.”
“The attack that occurred at Kidal can’t remain unpunished,” Diop said, in a video conference from Mali, demanding “an international commission” investigate.
The UN’s special representative to Mali, Bert Koenders, who also participated in the video conference, said the UN “remains deeply committed to restoring Mali state authority in Kidal.”
But he said “the priority for today is to revive the political dialogue,” adding “we must call on all concerned to take concrete steps to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions.”
France’s Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said: “The priority now should be on avoiding escalation and on getting back to dialogue, and on getting armed groups back to barracks.”
Araud said it was up to Bamako — not UN troops — to handle disarming armed groups. “What French forces can do is support the Malian government,” he added.