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Fighting in Mali prompts President Keita's return

Mali's newly-elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has cut short a visit to France and returned home amid renewed fight between government forces and Tuareg rebels. They pulled out of peace talks last week.

The Malian embassy in Paris said on Tuesday that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had headed home prematurely after talks with his French counterpart Francois Hollande because of fresh fighting in the north of Mali.

"Obviously it has to do with the situation in the north," an embassy official told the German news agency DPA.

Keita's return shortened his intended four-day France visit to two days.

Fighting on Sunday

On Sunday night, government forces and rebels traded heavy gunfire in Mali's northeastern town of Kidal after rebels allegedly ambushed soldiers at a bank.

Those clashes ebbed on Monday when troops of the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA intervened.

On Saturday, four suicide bombers had detonated a car bomb outside an army barracks in Timbuktu, killing two civilians and wounding six soldiers.

France led a military intervention in Mali in January to rout Islamists who last year seized control of the vast north which is also claimed by Tuareg rebels grouped within the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

The MNLA claims to have been shortchanged since the peace talks on their demand for greater autonomy in Mali's north.

In a radio address on Monday, Keita said "nothing can disrupt the agenda that we have set for healing and the return of peace to Mali."

The unrest comes less than two months after Keita's election.

ipj/msh (dpa, AFP)