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Conflict

Mali hit by 'first suicide attack' since French intervention

Mali has been struck by its first known suicide bombing since France launched a military operation against Islamist rebels last month. Separately Malian troops have clashed with mutinous soldiers in the capital, Bamako.

The suspected al Qaeda linked militant targeted an army checkpoint in the northern city of Gao on Friday, Malian military sources said. According to Malian First Sergeant Mamadou Keita, the attacker drove a motorcycle up to the checkpoint and detonated an explosive belt that he was wearing.

The bomber was the only person killed in the attack, although one soldier was injured.

The Malian military blamed the attack on the Islamist group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). It is one of three al Qaeda-linked groups that had occupied large swathes of northern Mali beginning in March 2012.

Since France's military intervention last month the militants have now largely been ousted from the country's north. French and Malian forces have met little resistance, claiming back a number of key towns, including Gao and Timbuktu. However, Friday's attack served as a reminder that the Islamist insurgency is yet to be extinguished.

Clashes in Bamako

Outside the capital Bamako on Friday one person was reportedly killed and six others wounded when government troops clashed with mutinous soldiers loyal to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.

The latest violence came as French forces, backed by soldiers from Chad, seized the north-eastern town of Tessalit, near Mali's border with Algeria.

French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard confirmed that they had gained control of the northern town after French Special Forces parachuted in during an overnight assault.

Seperately 70 European Union military instructors arrived in Mali on Friday. They were the first of an eventual 500-strong mission sent to train Malian forces.

French General Francois Lecointre, who is leading the mission, said there was "a real need to recreate the Malian army, which is in a state of advanced disrepair".

"The soldiers are badly trained, badly paid and under-equipped," he said.

ccp/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)