Malian separatist rebels end ceasefire after clashes

BAMAKO Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:19pm EST

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Separatist Tuareg rebels said on Friday they were ending a five-month-old ceasefire with Mali's government and taking up arms following violence in the northern city of Kidal.

The declaration came a day after Malian troops clashed with stone-throwing protesters who blocked a visit by the prime minister to the city, a northern rebel stronghold.

Several demonstrators were wounded but there were conflicting accounts of how the incident started.

"The political and military wings of the Azawad (MNLA, MAA and HCUA) declare the lifting of the ceasefire with the central government in Bamako," said a statement by Attaye Ag Mohamed, one of the founders of the MNLA groups.

"All our military positions are on alert," he added.

The west African country is in the process of returning to civilian rule after a Tuareg uprising that led to a coup last year and the occupation of the north of the country by al Qaeda-linked militants.

A French-led military offensive routed the Islamists but tension remains between the central government and Tuareg separatists demanding an independent homeland they call Azawad.

The Tuaregs seized control of Kidal after the French military offensive drove out the Islamists, leading to tensions with the government in Bamako.

Under the June peace pact that allowed the government to return to Kidal ahead of elections, the rebels remain in Kidal but were required to return to their barracks under the supervision of U.N. peacekeepers, stop carrying arms in public and dismantle all roadblocks.

The two sides were due to open further negotiations over the status of the restive desert region.

A senior French military official told Reuters his force would wait to see how things played out on the ground, but had no further reaction to the MNLA announcement.

Before the Tuareg declaration, the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Mali known as MINUSMA had condemned the violence in Kidal and called for a return to the negotiation table.

(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Bate Felix and Andrew Heavens)