At least one dead in Mali protest against foreign forces

French soldiers patrol the streets in Kidal, northern Mali on July 28, 2013

Bamako (AFP) – At least one civilian was killed Monday during a protest against foreign forces in the Malian city of Kidal, a UN source said, which saw demonstrators force entry onto an airport runway.

“Locals were protesting against harassment from MINUMSA (UN) and Barkhane (French) forces,” the source within the UN mission told AFP, adding that “at least one civilian was killed”.

A Kidal resident told AFP that UN forces had “fired on the crowd” in the troubled northern city, which provides a base for foreign contingents supporting domestic forces as they battle marauding bandits and a jihadist insurgency.

The UN mission in Mali, also referred to by its acronym MINUSMA, confirmed the demonstration had taken place but said in a statement that the facts of anyone wounded or killed were “being verified”.

“The protesters forced their way onto the airport runway around 1000 GMT, a restricted area, ransacking the place and setting fire to security facilities,” the UN force said in its statement.

The ex-rebels of Mali’s Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA), which has a significant presence in the area, said two protesters were killed and several injured.

A Guinean MINUSMA soldier told AFP the protesters were calling for the release of three men arrested by French troops belonging to Operation Barkhane, under which France has some 3,500 soldiers deployed across five countries in the Sahel region.

The French believed the trio had links with “terrorists who recently laid the mines that killed three French soldiers,” according to the Guinean.

The number of French soldiers killed in combat during the two-year operation is now at seven following the deaths last week, according to French defence ministry figures.

The MINUSMA mission is the most deadly active deployment for UN peacekeepers.

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