(Adds official confirmation)
By Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO May 27 Mali's Defence Minister Soumeylou
Boubeye Maiga resigned on Tuesday, less than a week after an
embarrassing defeat of army forces by Tuareg separatist rebels
who seized several northern towns.
The Malian army had launched a surprise assault on the rebel
stronghold of Kidal last Wednesday but was overrun by rebel
forces, who said they subsequently captured seven other northern
towns as U.N. and French peacekeepers declined to intervene.
The failed action threatened to sink struggling peace
negotiations between the government and the rebels, and plunge
the impoverished West African country back into war.
The government has said that President Ibrahim Boubacar
Keita had not given any order for the army's botched attempt to
retake Kidal and it launched an inquiry into the matter.
"The president of the republic, on the recommendation of the
prime minister, names Bah N'Dao as minister of defence,"
according to a short decree read on state television by a
Sources close to Maiga, a veteran politician appointed when
Keita took office in September, said he had presented his
resignation earlier on Tuesday.
N'Dao, a retired colonel, was an aide to former President
Moussa Traore, who seized power in a 1968 coup, a defence
ministry official said.
Tuareg separatists accepted a cease-fire agreement on Friday
brokered by the chairman of the African Union and U.N. special
representative in Mali. The United Nations is slowly deploying a
12,600-strong peacekeeping mission to Mali as France seeks to
wind down its military presence there.
The government has accused the separatists, including the
National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), of
renewing their former alliances with al Qaeda-linked Islamist
Mali was plunged into chaos in 2012 after Tuareg
independence fighters teamed up with armed Islamist groups to
seize the north following a coup in the capital.
When they were sidelined by the better-equipped Islamists,
the separatists broke with their allies. A French-led military
operation routed the Islamists last year.
The MNLA says it controls at least seven northern towns in
addition to Kidal and that government troops either abandoned
their positions and sought refuge at the camps of the U.N.
peacekeeping mission MINUSMA or fled south on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by
Steve Orlofsky and Ken Wills)