BAMAKO: Mali separatist rebels attacked an army convoy in the north and killed 30 soldiers, a spokesman for the coalition group said Monday.
Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane, spokesman for the Coordination of Azawad Movements, a coalition of separatist groups, said they killed 30 army soldiers when they attacked an army patrol about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Timbuktu, on the road to Goundam.
The toll could not be immediately confirmed by independent sources.
Col. Diarran Kone, spokesman for Mali s defense forces said they could not confirm a casualty toll.
Civilians were caught in the crossfire between the separatists and soldiers, said Radhia Achouri, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Mali. She confirmed the attack but did not give a casualty figure.
“An army patrol was attacked by an armed group,” southwest of Timbuktu, she said. The U.N. mission is giving medical aid to civilians and the army, she said.
Armed groups allied with the government attacked and took over the northern town of Menaka two weeks ago, and the separatist groups have launched a surge of attacks since, saying the cease-fire had been broken. The violence threatens a peace accord meant to be signed May 15 between Mali s several armed groups, separatists and the government.
The U.N. s special representative in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, condemned the attack.
“The violence must immediately cease and I urge all parties to demonstrate their commitment on the ground to the process that is leading to the signature of a peace accord on May 15,” he said, calling it the only viable way to end the security crisis that has gripped the country.
Tuareg rebel groups seized control of northern Mali in early 2012 but then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist militants won control shortly afterward. Troops from former colonizer France later led a military offensive to dislodge the extremists.