BAMAKO: Armed Islamist extremists yesterday shelled Gao, the largest town in northern Mali, wounding at least one Malian soldier, two days after regional peace talks resumed.
“The Islamists lobbed shells on the town of Gao from a distance. For the moment, I cannot say whether there were victims or not,” a Malian general staff officer said. “Troops were at once sent to the place where the shell-fire was coming from,” the source added.
The violence followed the resumption on Saturday of talks between the government of the vast west African country and Tuareg separatist rebels and two associated Arab bodies in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou.
Two Gao residents said that the shells came from a place called Bourem, to the north of the city in the desert.
“I heard heavy weapons fire from the outskirts of Bourem. I saw a Malian soldier lying on the ground. I don’t know whether he was dead or wounded, but he had been hit,” said Maha Toure, a nurse whose home adjoins the Gao mosque in the north of the town.
Another resident who had been on his motorcycle in the same district said he saw Malian and French troops heading out to the source of the shelling.
The French soldiers — who have been sent to Mali to help quell an Islamist insurgency — were riding a “heavy” armoured vehicle, he said.