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Mali

Clashes reported between rebels and Malian troops in Gao

Islamist militants have reportedly clashed with Malian troops in the northern city of Gao. The attack comes two weeks after French-led troops ousted the rebels from their urban strongholds in the country's north.

A group of Islamist rebels penetrated the city of Gao Sunday, engaging the Malian army in heavy gunfire near the city's police headquarters, a military source said.

French troops were also reportedly involved in the clash, as their helicopters patrolled from overhead. A death toll could not immediately be established and it is unclear whether fighting has continued.

Militants from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, have claimed responsibility for the attack. "Today God's faithful successfully attacked the Malian army, which let the enemies of Islam come to Gao. MUJAO also claims the suicide bombing yesterday that made the Malian soldiers flee," said Abou Walid Sahraoui, spokesman for the group.

Gao, Mali's most populous city in the north, was freed by French-led troops two weeks ago after beginning their military campaign on January 11. However, since the rebels were forced out they have continued to clash with security forces on the outskirts of the city.

On Saturday, soldiers shot and killed a man wearing explosives at a checkpoint to Gao, the army said. However, there were conflicting reports on whether the explosives went off. A suicide bomber also blew himself up in Gao on Friday, killing only himself, which the MUJAO claimed in their statement.

After conceding most of their urban strongholds to French-led troops, the rebels are suspected of trying to regroup in Mali's desert north.

hc/dr (Reuters, AP, AFP)