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UN force leaves base in northern Mali early due to insecurity

UN force leaves base in northern Mali early due to insecurity

World

UN force leaves base in northern Mali early due to insecurity

(AFP) - The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as Minusma, started its departure from the camp of Ber in northern Mali, near Timbuktu, over the weekend.

"Minusma has expedited its withdrawal from Ber due to the deteriorating security situation in the area and the high risks posed to our Blue Helmets," the force wrote on its social media on Sunday.

During the operation, three of its soldiers were wounded when they came under fire, the force added a few hours later.

In a message posted later on Sunday, the force said that its convoy was attacked twice as it withdrew from Ber, adding that three peacekeepers had been evacuated to Timbuktu for treatment.

Attacks against peacekeepers can constitute war crimes under international law, the statement added.

It came after former rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group said the army and the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which is assisting Mali's armed forces, had attacked their forces in Ber on Friday.

The Malian army on Saturday said six soldiers died and 24 fighters from "armed terrorist groups" were killed in a skirmish in the area on Friday.

Tuareg separatists

Mali's army stated on Sunday evening saying it had taken possession of the Ber camp "after numerous incidents had marred the movement of our units".

It said armed "terrorist" groups had staged "an attempted incursion into the camp" and fired on its troops, among other clashes.

These left a total of six soldiers dead and four wounded, according to a military press release.

The Ber area has been the scene of tensions for several days now.

The Malian army and its Wagner allies are fighting the CMA (for Coordination des mouvements de l'Azawad, or Coordination of Azawad Movements in English), an alliance of Tuareg-dominated groups seeking autonomy or independence from the Malian state.

The latter controls vast areas of the north of Mali.

A CMA official called for Minusma to "simply leave" Ber on social media on Sunday, and not hand the camp over to the army.

The CMA believes that the Malian army is "determined to occupy Minusma's holdings at all costs, including those in areas under CMA control", in violation of a 2015 peace deal.

It also criticises the military for having approved a new constitution in June, which it says compromises the peace agreement.

Progressive withdrawal

After Ogossagou, in the centre of Mali, Ber is the second military camp from which UN troops are withdrawing. Their departure from Mali, approved in June, should be completed within six months.

The junta, which has been ruling Mali since 2020, pushed the UN Security Council to withdraw Minusma by the end of the year.

The UN Security Council decided to start the first departures from the central Ogossagou base in early August. Before then, Minusma had some 11,600 troops and 1,500 police officers in Mali.

The mission began its activity in 2013 after separatist and jihadist rebellions broke out in northern Mali the previous year.

The deep security crisis that has engulfed northern Mali since 2012 has spread to the centre of the country, as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.