Mali’s army announced Wednesday that it had fired on two armored vehicles abandoned by the United Nations peacekeeping mission and seized by “terrorists” in the strategic northern town of Kidal.
The army said aerial surveillance footage taken on Tuesday and Wednesday identified “terrorists in possession of two armored vehicles abandoned by” the UN force MINUSMA.
The army said its forces “fired on the two vehicles and destroyed them,” adding that the incident was “proof of the collusion between certain MINUSMA contingents and terrorist groups.”
The vehicles “were neutralised by the army’s aerial vectors”, it added.
The Malian army has been carrying out air strikes in Kidal since the end of last week, following MINUSMA’s withdrawal from Kigali — a stronghold of the Tuareg rebellion and a major sovereignty issue for the central government.
Tuesday’s drone strikes killed 14 civilians, including children, according to the rebels. The army claimed to have aimed at “terrorist targets” in the former UN mission camp.
Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, in June ordered the peacekeepers out, proclaiming the “failure” of the UN mission.
While the final departure from Kidal was initially planned for the second half of November, a deterioration in security has pushed MINUSMA to accelerate its withdrawal from all bases, which has irritated the junta.
Violence has escalated in the north since August, with the military, rebels and jihadists vying for control as the UN mission evacuates its camps, triggering a race to seize territory.
The rebels do not want the peacekeepers to hand their camps back to the Malian army, saying it would contravene the ceasefire and peace deals struck with the government in 2014 and 2015.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, said Wednesday that 848 peacekeepers from Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Guinea and Nepal, as well as vehicles and equipment, represented “the final elements of MINUSMA’s accelerated withdrawal from Kidal due to the deteriorating security situation in northern Mali”.
The convoy departed “without air support due to a lack of flight clearance from the relevant Malian authorities, increasing the threat to the safety of the peacekeepers,” the UN spokesman said.
In addition to the lack of security, bad weather and poor road conditions, which caused vehicles to break down, added to the challenges the convoy faced on its way to Gao.
The UN force has so far pulled out of eight of its 13 camps.
It is due to evacuate its camps in Ansongo in the north, and in central Mopti in the coming weeks, said Dujarric.
The final three bases, in Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako, will be used after January 1 to “liquidate” the mission, he added.
Established in 2013, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) mission had for the past decade maintained around 15,000 soldiers and police officers in Mali.
About 180 members have been killed in hostile acts.