Malians voted Sunday in legislative elections amid heavy security, highlighting fears that a vote seen as the last step in restoring constitutional rule in the battle-scarred country could be sabotaged by rebel attacks. While overall Sunday’s vote appeared to be mostly peaceful, sporadic acts of violence served as a reminder of Mali’s continued instability. There were also reports of fresh clashes between members of the Tuareg and Peul ethnic groups that left more than a dozen dead, officials said. In the confusion following Mali’s March 2012 military coup, rebel groups, including Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida, took control of northern Mali, prompting France to launch a military intervention in January that largely ousted the militants. But the region has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks, underscoring the persistent challenges in cementing security gains.
In Kidal, voters on Sunday were prevented from casting ballots by rock-throwing Tuareg separatists. In Goundam, a desert outpost near the fabled city of Timbuktu, armed men stole at least 10 ballot boxes.
And in the region of Gao near the border with Niger, a security official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said 16 ethnic Peul were killed in clashes with Tuaregs that occurred one day before the vote. The official said the violence was believed to be related to the death of an elderly Tuareg man about a week ago at the hands of ethnic Peul trying to rob him.