UN peacekeepers in Mali on Monday left their camp at Aguelhok in the tense Kidal region, UN and local sources said, under a withdrawal ordered by the troubled country’s military leaders.
The pullout of the UN stabilisation mission known as MINUSMA has ignited fears that fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions for control of the territory.
On Sunday, the mission announced it had “accelerated” its departure the day before from the Tessalit camp in an “extremely tense and degraded” security context that “endangered the lives of its personnel.”
“We definitively left our camp at Aguelhok on Monday,” a Chadian peacekeeper told AFP.
The information was confirmed by an official in the capital Bamako and two local elected officials.
There has not yet been a handover ceremony in the isolated camp in northern Mali.
By early Monday afternoon, the camp was empty and unoccupied, two local elected officials told AFP.
Monday’s withdrawal is the second in the Kidal region and the seventh in the country.
The upcoming evacuation of the Kidal camp — located near the town of Kidal, a stronghold of separatists fighters — is likely to pose security challenges.
Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, had in June demanded the departure of the mission, which had been deployed since 2013, 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 due to 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 — has recently carried out a series of attacks on army positions.
The groups do not want the camps handed back to the Malian army, saying it would contravene ceasefire and peace deals struck with Bamako in 2014 and 2015.