UN peacekeepers leave camp in tense northern Mali

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UN peacekeepers in Mali on Saturday left their camp in Tessalit in the tense Kidal region, UN and military sources said, as part of a withdrawal ordered by the troubled country’s military leaders.

The withdrawal of the UN stabilization mission known as MINUSMA from the region has ignited fears fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions for control of the territory.

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“Our last convoy left our base in Tessalit on Saturday afternoon,” an official from MINUSUMA, as the UN force is known, in the town told AFP.

The information was confirmed by a Chadian military source within the mission.

The Tessalit camp is close to the airport and had been operated largely by Chadian soldiers under the UN banner.

Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, had in June demanded that the mission, which had been deployed since 2013, depart the country despite being in the grip of jihadism and raging crises.

That followed months of deteriorating relations.

The withdrawal of some 11,600 soldiers and 1,500 police officers is scheduled to due continue until December 31, and has exacerbated rivalries between armed groups present in the north.

The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), an alliance of predominantly Tuareg groups seeking autonomy or independence from the Malian state, has carried out a series of attacks on army positions.

And the Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) has also increased attacks against the military.

Prior to Tessalit, MINUSMA had transferred four camps to the Malian authorities since August.

But the evacuation of the camps in the Kidal region, and especially that of Kidal, a bastion town of the separatists, remains a major challenge.

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