Mali’s Army Takes Anefis in Push to Capture Touareg-Held North

Mali’s army regained comtrol of the remote northeastern town of Anefis following clashes with armed Touareg separatists in a push to restore government authority in the West African country.

The military seized Anefis, 112 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Touareg stronghold of Kidal, in order to “bring peace and security throughout the country, facilitate the return of the administration and the holding of elections in a secure environment,” the government said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday.

Anefis was held by insurgents of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its French acronym MNLA, a separatist group that proclaimed independence in northern Mali last year.

The MNLA condemned the “deliberate aggression” against its positions, according to a statement published on its website. From now on, the armed group considers itself “in a state of legitimate self-defense and will take the necessary military actions to push back the Malian army,” it said.

Mali’s government this week accused Touareg leaders in the Kidal region of expelling people of different ethnic backgrounds as part of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” The MNLA denied the allegations.

The interim administration plans to hold a first round of presidential elections on July 28 and says it can’t organize a vote if the northeast remains under rebel control.

The U.S. yesterday called for “an urgent negotiated resolution to Kidal” and condemned “the racially motivated acts of detention and expulsions” in the town, according to an e-mailed statement from the State Department.

Elections are considered necessary to reunite the country following a France-led military campaign against groups of Islamist militants that attempted to install Shariah law in the north in the wake of the Touareg uprising.

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