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UN peacekeepers have departed a rebel stronghold in northern Mali early as violence increases

UN peacekeepers have departed a rebel stronghold in northern Mali early as violence increases


BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — United Nations peacekeepers on Tuesday withdrew from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali weeks earlier than planned because of growing insecurity, leaving the town in the hands of ethnic Tuareg separatists.

Underscoring the uptick in violence, at least two peacekeepers were wounded en route to the largest U.N. base in Gao.

“The peacekeepers’ convoy that left Kidal this morning was the victim of two improvised explosive device attacks,” Myriam Dessables, head of communications for the U.N. mission known as MINUSMA, told The Associated Press.

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MINUSMA has now left eight of its 13 bases after Mali’s junta earlier this year ordered the 15,000-strong mission to leave the West African country, claiming it had failed in its mission in trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency.

“The conditions for the departure of all these bases were extremely difficult and trying, for a variety of reasons — all completely beyond the mission’s control — including the deterioration of the security situation and the resulting multiple threats to peacekeepers,” MINUSMA said in a statement confirming the latest departure.

About 850 U.N. peacekeepers had been based in Kidal along with 150 other mission personnel.

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FILE – United Nation forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Mali’s military regime is struggling to fight growing violence in the West African nation’s hard-hit northern region. That’s after a peace deal signed several years ago with rebels appeared to have collapsed and as the United Nations peacekeepers who helped fight jihadi groups begin to leave. Attacks in northern Mali have more than doubled since U.N. peacekeepers completed the first phase of their withdrawal in Aug. 2023, after a decade of fighting Islamic extremists, resulting in more than 150 deaths. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah, File)

An employee with MINUSMA told AP that the peacekeepers left Kidal in convoys after Mali’s military junta refused to authorize flights to repatriate U.N. equipment and civilian personnel.

The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the former MINUSMA base and the town’s airport were now under rebel control.

“I see residents of the town returning to the base to take away scrap metal and other objects left behind by the peacekeepers,” a resident of Kidal, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told the AP.

Mali’s junta, which overthrew the democratically elected president in 2021, has sought to distance the country from international partners. Former colonizer France, another partner in the fight against extremists, pulled out its military forces in 2022.

The U.N. peacekeeping operation became one of the most dangerous in the world, with more than 300 MINUSMA members killed since operations began in 2013.

Peacekeepers serving with the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) wear face masks while on patrol. Photo : MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Violence is again spiking between ethnic Tuareg rebels and Mali’s military, prompting the U.N. to move up its departure once planned for mid-November.

“The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law. He calls on the Malian authorities to take urgent steps to apprehend and swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice”, said Stéphane Dujarric, the UN Spokesman.

Analysts say the violence signals the breakdown of a 2015 peace agreement signed between the government and the rebels. That deal was signed after Tuareg rebels drove security forces out of northern Mali in 2012 as they sought to create an independent state they call Azawad.

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