Residents say Malian soldiers have retreated from the northern town of Kidal after heavy gunbattles with ethnic Tuareg separatist rebels. The army's departure is a major setback for the military, which had returned to the town less than a year ago and whose presence had remained highly unpopular. Capt. Remi, a spokesman with the French forces who did not give his last name in accordance with French military policy, said the Malian army retreat came Wednesday after hours of fighting between soldiers and the rebels. Over the weekend the rebels had attacked Kidal, killing at least eight civilians and taking more than 30 hostages who were later released. Kidal has remained largely under the control of rebels, and the Malian army was allowed to return just before elections last year.