Mali troops attack rival red beret camp in Bamako

The Guardian reports: Fierce fighting between rival army factions broke out in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday, in an ominous sign of the military’s weakness and amid further attacks from Islamist rebels.

At least one person was killed and five injured when forces loyal to Mali’s unelected government stormed the camp of the “red beret” presidential guard. Residents fled in panic as heavy gunfire echoed from the Djikoroni-Para paratrooper base on the Niger river.

Witnesses reported smoke rising from the base. The “red berets” are loyal to Mali’s former democratic president Amadou Toumani Touré, who was deposed in a coup last March. The elite paratroopers refused to be redeployed to the north of the country, where French and Malian soldiers have been battling Islamist rebels.

Troops loyal to Mali’s new government – led by interim prime minister Dioncounda Traoré – encircled the base with armoured vehicles early on Friday, witnesses said. The soldiers opened fire on women and children who had gathered near the camp gates, killing one and injuring two children, it was reported.

“Since 6am the soldiers arrived in armored cars and pickup trucks, all of them armed to the teeth to attack our base. The women and children tried to stop them from entering the camp. They shot tear gas at us and started shooting volleys in the air,” Batoma Dicko, a woman who lives in the military camp, told Reuters. The camp includes housing for military families. Doctors said that the dead man, in his 20s, was shot in the face.

The incident bodes badly for Mali’s future after French forces pull out. France and Malian troops have succeeded in swiftly recapturing the northern towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, seized last year by al-Qaida allied jihadist fighters. France’s defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, indicated earlier this week that he wants to reduce France’s military presence in Mali, and hand over “in a few weeks” to an African contingent.

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