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KIDAL, Mali, May 18 (Reuters) - Around 30 civil servants were abducted by Tuareg MNLA separatists in Mali's northern town of Kidal during fighting on Saturday that also wounded 23 government soldiers, the governor of the region said on Sunday.
Fighting erupted early on Saturday ahead of the arrival of Prime Minister Moussa Mara, who was visiting Kidal for the first time since his appointment last month. He is seeking to revive long-delayed peace talks with northern armed groups.
"Some 30 of our civil servants were kidnapped by the assailants who attacked the governor's office. There were 23 wounded, including three seriously who were evacuated by helicopter," Adama Kamissoko told Reuters.
A Reuters journalist travelling with Mara saw the body of one dead soldier, which was brought to a Malian army base in the town where the prime minister was forced to spend the night.
A Malian military source said the gun battle erupted after MNLA fighters aboard two pick-up trucks attacked an army checkpoint in front of the governor's office.
A spokesman for the MNLA said the army attacked first, opening fire on the group's barracks following pro-independence protests in the town.
Mali, a vast landlocked country of 16 million people in West Africa, descended into turmoil when Islamist fighters took advantage of a 2012 Tuareg-led rebellion and seized control of the country's north.
French troops drove back the Islamists last year, elections were held and a U.N. peacekeeping mission is rolling out.
However, agreed talks between the government and Tuareg armed groups have yet to materialise. (Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Stephen Powell)