Taureg Rebels Capture Airport From UN in North Mali

January 21, 2015 Updated: January 21, 2015

BAMAKO, Mali—Tuareg separatist protesters in Mali said Wednesday they pushed the U.N.’s mission from an airfield in Kidal in the north, burning generators and tearing down tents.

Tuareg protester Moussa Ag Ali said they chased soldiers from the airfield and set fire to at least two generators.

“They fled to their camp,” he said of the peacekeepers.

Protester Ismail Ag Rhissa said demonstrators tore down tents that shelter some of the U.N. mission.

“The soldiers of MINUSMA fired tear gas and warning shots, but they could not stop us,” he said.

A deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told reporters in New York only that “the demonstrations are now ended.”

The protests happened after a Dutch attack helicopter with the U.N. mission fired upon a car near the town of Gao, killing four rebels on Tuesday. That violence took place near Tabancort north of the town of Gao and is the first time that the U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, carried out such air strikes.

Alhousseini Ag Goumeye, a military official with the Tuareg separatist rebel group NMLA, said six missiles were fired on the car, killing four militants.

A U.N. mission statement said its forces had to fire after they came under “direct heavy fire.” Haq said the U.N. mission fired warning shots but the vehicle proceeded, and the mission had to act to protect civilians.

The head of the African Union mission in Mali, Pierre Buyoya, condemned the recent incidents, and called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint.

Northern Mali fell under control of Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention in 2013 scattered the extremists, but some remain active and there have been continued bursts of violence.

U.N. troops are now trying to stabilize the north, and peace talks have begun between the Malian government and Tuaregs, who maintain a heavy presence in Kidal and have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government. Al-Qaida is not participating in those discussions.

From The Associated Press. AP reporter Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.