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UN force in Mali quits base early over insecurity

August 13, 2023

Mali's junta demanded in June that the MINUSMA force withdraw from the West African country after a decade-long deployment. The mission was created to quell separatist and Islamist insurgencies in northern Mali.

An archive photo of members of the MUNUSMA mission in northern Mali on June 24, 2022
The UN MINSMA mission was deployed to Mali in 2013 Image: Nicolas Remene/Le Pictorium/MAXPPP/dpa/picture alliance

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali on Sunday said it had brought forward its withdrawal from a base in the north of the country due to deteriorating security conditions.

Over the past few days, the rebel alliance led by ethnic Tuaregs has accused Malian forces and Russian Wagner troops of violating a cease-fire by attacking its forces stationed near Ber.

The Malian army has not responded to the allegations, but on Saturday said six soldiers died and 24 fighters from "armed terrorist groups" were killed in a skirmish in the area a day earlier.

What did the UN mission say?

MINUSMA, as the UN mission is known, said in a statement it had "expedited its withdrawal from Ber due to the deteriorating security and the high risks that brings for our Blue Helmets." 

"It urges all concerned parties to refrain from any actions that could further complicate the operation," it said, without naming those involved.

A senior local security official told AFP news agency that MINUSMA troops had left Ber, adding that the withdrawal had taken place "without incident."

Three injured in strike on UN convoy

However, MIMUSMA later said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that its convoy was attacked twice while leaving Ber and three blue helmet soldiers were evacuated for medical treatment.

"Attacks against peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law," MIMUSMA warned.

Rebel spokesperson Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane told Reuters by phone that fighting between Tuareg-led rebels and Malian troops around Ber was ongoing as of Sunday morning.

The latest clashes in the north follow the Malian junta's unexpected demand two months ago for MINUSMA to end its decade-long mission.

Tuareg peace deal at risk

There are concerns the departure of UN troops could put further strain on a 2015 peace deal with Tuareg rebels and weaken efforts to curb an Islamist insurgency.

The MIMUSMA mission in the West African nation began in 2013 after Tuareg separatist and jihadist rebellions broke out in northern Mali the previous year.

The mission deployed 11,600 troops and 1,500 police officers in the country, mostly from African nations with a small representation from Europe, Asia and the United States.

The presence of MINUSMA peacekeepers had helped to placate the Tuareg-led rebels, who halted their separatist uprising with a 2015 peace deal.

The Islamist insurgency has since spread into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands of people and displacing millions in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Mali's junta welcomed Russia's Wagner

The violence has also fuelled political instability helping the Malian junta seize power in coups in 2020 and 2021.

The junta has since fallen out with former colonial power France and turned to Russia for political and military support.

Mali, Burkina Faso demonstrate solidarity with Niger junta

Russia's Wagner mercenary group now has about 1,000 fighters in Mali.

Under their joint operations, Malian troops and its foreign security partners — believed to be Wagner mercenaries — have committed "grave human rights abuses" including violence against women to spread terror, UN sanctions monitors said in a recent report.

The Tuareg-led alliance also criticizes the military for having approved a new constitution in June, which it says compromises the peace agreement.

mm/lo (AFP, Reuters)