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Gunmen Kidnap Election Officials in Northern Mali

An ethnic Tuareg Malian soldier under the command of Col. El Hadj Ag Gamou stands guard at a checkpoint in Gao, Mali, March 3, 2013.
Officials in northern Mali say gunmen have abducted five people, including four election officials, a week before a presidential poll aimed at restoring democracy, peace and unity in the country.

A Malian official said the gunmen are suspected to be members of the MNLA ethnic Tuareg separatist group, which signed a cease-fire with the government last month.

Saturday's kidnappings took place in the town of Tessalit.

The MNLA launched its fight for an independent Tuareg state in northern Mali in January 2012. When disgruntled soldiers overthrew Mali's central government that March, it allowed the MNLA and al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants to take control of the north.

The Islamist rebels pushed aside the MNLA a few months later, before French and African forces drove the Islamists out of the region earlier this year.