BAMAKO, Mali, May 19 (UPI) -- Malian defense forces clashed with armed Tuareg rebels in the northern town of Kidal on Saturday during a visit to the area by Prime Minister Moussa Mara.
According to the defense ministry, "Eight members of the armed forces were killed and 25 were wounded, while 28 of the attackers were killed." The prime minister was not involved in the fighting.
The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), comprised of Tuareg rebels, issued a statement claiming its actions on Saturday were in self-defense and part of the resistance. The MNLA is dedicated to gaining independence for northern Mali.
During the fighting, the MNLA says its took 30 prisoners, including three regional government officials and 24 soldiers. The group reportedly turned over two wounded Malian soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The U.S. Department of State condemned the violence and called for the release of all prisoners. "We condemn these acts, which undermine the fragile peace in northern Mali and efforts to bring peace, security, and development to all of its citizens," spokesperson Jen Psaki said Sunday. "The way to resolve these issues is through an inclusive and credible negotiation process, not through violence and intimidation."