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UN peacekeepers expedite pullout from northern Mali camp amid tense security context

Armoured vehicles of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) patrol the city of Timbuktu on December 8, 2021.   -  
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UN peacekeepers made an early withdrawal from their camp at Tessalit in northern Mali, the United Nations mission revealed Sunday.

The MINUSMA statement read that the pull-out was completed "in an extremely tense and degraded security context putting in danger the lives of personnel".

Before quitting the base and heading for Gao (the biggest town in northern Mali), MINUSMA said it had "destroyed, deactivated or put out of service equipment such as vehicles, munitions, generators and other items". It followed UN protocols since some of the equipment could not be be returned to troop contributing countries to which it belonged nor redeployed to other peacekeeping missions.

UN staff had previously been "forced to shelter in bunkers several times because of shooting", the statement said.

It gave the example of October 19, when incoming fire targeted a C130 transport plane on landing at Tessalit. No injuries or serious damage were recorded.

The Malian army said it took over the Tessalit camp on Saturday. It is the first handover in the sensitive Kidal region where clashes with armed groups have flared.

The Alliance of groups seeking autonomy or independence (CMA) and the Al-Qaeda-linked (GSIM) have recently carried out a series of attacks on army positions.

Before Tessalit, MINUSMA had transferred five other camps to the Malian authorities since August.

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

The separatists 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.

The withdrawal of around 13,000 peacekeepers (11,600 soldiers and 1,500 police officers) from ten or so countries is due to continue until December 31.

The withdrawal of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) after 13 years has ignited fears that fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions for control of the territory.

Mali's ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, had in June demanded the mission leave despite being in the grip of jihadism and raging crises.

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