Mali lawmakers accused of terrorism lose immunity

Mali's parliament said Thursday it had stripped immunity from prosecution from nine lawmakers including six suspected of terrorism and weapons- and drug-trafficking as part of an armed rebel group.

The six are said to have joined minority Tuareg separatist groups including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which controls the northern town of Kidal, and are the subject of international arrest warrants issued in Mali.

"The members of the National Assembly approved the lifting of parliamentary immunity... so they can go before the courts," said a statement from the assembly.

The group is accused of being involved in cases related to "terrorism" and "the trafficking of drugs and weapons", the statement said.

The assembly also withdrew immunity from three presidential candidates who are implicated respectively in murder, fraud and financial litigation in separate cases, the statement added.

The caretaker government has announced July 28 presidential elections but the occupation of Kidal by the MNLA has been a major obstacle to organising the polls, seen as crucial to Mali's recovery from the conflict of the past 16 months.

Malian military officers staged a coup in March last year, but the weak army was overpowered by the MNLA which seized key northern cities before being sidelined by its Al Qaeda-linked allies.

The MNLA sided with a French-led military intervention which reclaimed most of the lost territory from the Islamists. But the Tuaregs have been reluctant to allow government troops into Kidal for the vote.

They bargained unsuccessfully for the continued immunity of the six lawmakers as part of a ceasefire deal signed with Mali's caretaker government in Burkina Faso last month which paves the way for government troops to assist with polling in Kidal.