BAMAKO, May 22 (Reuters) - Tuareg separatists said on Thursday they had seized control of several towns in northern Mali after routing government forces but they would respect calls for a ceasefire.
Malian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
“We now control Anefis, Aguelhok, Tessalit, Menaka, Ansongo, Anderamboukane and Lere,” Attaye Ag Mohamed an official with the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), told Reuters by telephone from the rebel stronghold Kidal.
Attaye said the MNLA took the towns without a fight after government troops either abandoned their positions and sought refuge at the camps of the U.N. peacekeeping mission or fled south.
“We are going to hold our positions. We will heed the call from the international community which has asked us to cease fire. We also note that the Malian government has called for an immediate ceasefire,” Attaye said.
A parliamentarian from the region, Algabass Ag Intallah, said Malian troops had pulled out of several northern towns and a Malian military source said the army was withdrawing from areas where it was outnumbered.
The army had launched an offensive to retake control of Kidal after clashes erupted while Prime Minister Moussa Mara was visiting the town on Saturday.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Bate Felix in Dakar and Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Writing by Bate Felix, Ediitng by Angus MacSwan