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Tensions remain high amid conflicting reports over central Mali clash

Tensions remain high Thursday amid conflicting reports of gains in the clash between the Malian army and rebels in the central region.

A rebel coalition of AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine claimed control of the central town of Konna, while the army said rebels lost several men and a number of vehicles in the fighting.

Confrontations erupted days ago after the Malian government and Ansar Dine failed to reach any deal in talks on a solution to the Mali crisis.

Mali's Defense Minister Yamoussa Camara on Tuesday said the "armed forces repulsed the attempted attack by the Islamists" and that "all the army officers who were involved in the operation are well and are still on the front line."

"Until today, our forces are still in control of their positions and have not suffered any casualty," the defense minister said, while calling on Malian citizens to remain calm.

The clash is the latest between the army and the rebels since the latter occupied the north in the aftermath of a military coup on March 22, 2012.

The UN Security Council has approved an intervention plan submitted by the West African bloc ECOWAS, which is preparing a 3, 500-strong standby force for the restoration of territorial integrity in northern Mali.

Al-Qaida's branch in North Africa AQIM is considered a major threat in the Sahel region. The military intervention plan was worked out of concern that northern Mali could become a safe haven for terrorism and drug and human trafficking.

[Source: Xinhua, Bamako, 10Jan13]

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