On Tuesday, United Nations peacekeepers pulled out from a rebel-held area in northern Mali, departing several weeks earlier than scheduled due to security concerns. As a result, the town has reportedly fallen under the control of ethnic Tuareg separatists, according to local residents.
An employee with the U.N. mission known as MINUSMA told The Associated Press that the peacekeepers left Kidal in two 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.
Earlier this year, Mali’s junta ordered the 15,000-strong U.N. mission to leave the West African country immediately, claiming it had failed in its mission in trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency. The junta, which overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president in 2021, has sought to distance the country from international partners.
The peacekeeping operation became one of the most dangerous in the world, with more than 300 MINUSMA members killed since operations began in 2013.
“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.
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.
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.
Former colonizer France, another partner in Mali’s fight against extremists, pulled out its military forces in 2022.