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Jul 22, 5:38 PM EDT

16 killed in fighting between rival Tuareg groups in Mali



DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- At least 16 people were killed and 17 wounded in northern Mali in fighting that ended Friday morning between rival Tuareg groups, according to an officer in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the West African country.

The battle in Kidal began Thursday afternoon, said the U.N. officer who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The fighting was between the government-allied militia group, GATIA, and the Coordination of Azawad Movements, a coalition of groups seeking autonomy in northern Mali that includes ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs. The groups blamed each other for starting the violence.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission called for an immediate cease-fire between the two groups and urged them to abide by the peace accord signed in June 2015 between Mali's government and armed groups in the north.

Tuareg separatists took hold of Mali's north in 2012 before al-Qaida-linked extremists took control. French forces pushed them out of their strongholds in 2013. Since then, the north has remained on edge, with more than 11,000 United Nations soldiers and thousands of Malian troops maintaining an uneasy peace.

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