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Junta takes camp in Mali capital, claims control

After fierce fighting in Mali's capital Tuesday, troops loyal to the junta overran the main camp of the soldiers who tried to oust them in a countercoup.

Gunfire echoed across Bamako as Malian government troops battled each other, killing at least 12 people.

Mali's coup leaders who took power over a month ago and ostensibly handed control over to an interim civilian government on April 12, said they control the state broadcaster, the airport and a military base, fending off attacks by opposing forces. Coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo told a private radio station Monday night that the countercoup had failed and that his soldiers have captured foreign fighters.

A senior Western diplomat based in Bamako told The Associated Press that the fighting apparently started Monday when forces loyal to the junta tried to arrest the former head of the presidential guard. The presidential guard is part of Mali's parachutist regiment, known as the Red Berets, part of the faction that was seen as the most reluctant to submit to the authority of the junta. The regiment was the most loyal to ex-President Amadou Toumani Toure when he was in power.

Residents near the Red Beret's camp said there had been heavy fighting there Tuesday, and that pro-junta troops were overrunning the camp.

"Captain Sanogo's troops have made it into the main camp of the Red Berets in Djicoroni," a resident who lives near the camp said. The resident asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"They are going from building to building looking for any of the troops left but I think everyone has left already," he said.

Another resident in the Djicoroni camp in Bamako earlier said Sanogo's forces were trying to capture the anti-junta forces living there.

"Most of the families who live here and most of the military personnel have fled, but they still come to attack the camp," the resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. He said he was afraid to leave his house.

Anti-junta forces tried to take over the country's state broadcaster and attacked the airport and the junta's main military base on Monday. Yaya Konate, the head of the broadcast station, said that troops arrived at the station at around 6:30 p.m. on Monday firing in the air and told all personnel working there to leave. He said the soldiers who took charge of the building were from the Red Berets.

Soldiers loyal to Sanogo, however, appeared on state television early Tuesday and said the important installations remain in their hands after fighting. But heavy gunfire across Bamako suggests that the leaders of the March coup don't yet have total control over the capital.

A dozen bodies had been brought to the hospital since the fighting started Monday evening, said a hospital official.

"Some are military and some are civilians who must have got caught up in the fighting. They were all killed by gunshot wounds in areas around where the conflict was going on," Adama Traore said.

Traore said that the hospital had treated around 30 injured people. He said most of the military personnel had been given treatment and then returned to their bases.

A source close to the junta told AP that reinforcements were coming from other major Malian towns to strengthen the junta's position.

"The first reinforcements have already arrived and others will be in Bamako soon," the soldier said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the press.

State television showed a small group of prisoners along with guns, ammunition and grenades supposedly belonging to the captured troops.

"Those arrested come from different origins and were supported by hidden internal forces," a statement read by soldiers Tuesday said. "Some of these people have been detained by the armed forces and an in-depth investigation will take place. We remind you that everyone involved ... will be tracked down and brought before the competent jurisdictions."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the fighting is "detrimental to Mali," and is "causing a massive refugee flow and greater instability for the country as a whole."

"We had seen some progress last week in putting in place an interim government that was moving on a timeline towards civilian elections, and we want to see that interim government back in place," he said.

Sanogo has signed a deal with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition. But Sanogo said Sunday that ECOWAS had gone back on that deal and that he rejects a plan to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the president's and prime minister's office.

Mali is also battling insecurity in its desert north where separatist rebels have declared independence, and militants are trying to impose strict Islamic law.

Tuareg separatist fighters and Islamic militants took advantage of the chaos caused by the coup in Bamako last month to quickly advance and capture the three main towns in the north of Mali at the end of March. Mali government forces fled south without putting up any major resistance.

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Associated Press writers Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.