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UN peacekeepers leave Mali in a hurry and under threat

UN peacekeepers leave Mali in a hurry and under threat
In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, UN peacekeepers in an armored personnel carrier lead a patrol from Bentiu towards the village of Nhialdiu,   -  
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Sam Mednick/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.


The UN mission pushed out of Mali has been forced by the actions of the ruling junta to rush its departure and sabotage the equipment left behind, before risking the lives of its peacekeepers on the road for lack of flight permits.

The Minusma was pushed out after the junta in power since 2020 called for its withdrawal in June, proclaiming the "failure" of the mission and denouncing its alleged "instrumentalisation" of the human rights issue.

Here is an overview of this large-scale and risky operation, which brings to an end ten years of efforts to try to stabilise a country plagued by jihadism and a deep multidimensional crisis.

- Tensions on all sides - The Minusma, whose strength has hovered around 15,000 soldiers and police officers and whose more than 180 members have been killed in hostile acts, is supposed to have left by 31 December.

The various armed actors fighting for control of the territory in the north are seeking to take advantage of the evacuation of the Minusma camps. The army is rushing to take them back. The predominantly Tuareg separatist groups who oppose the army have resumed hostilities against it. The al-Qaida-affiliated Groupe de soutien à l'islam et aux musulmans (GSIM) has stepped up its attacks.

The Minusma is therefore withdrawing in the midst of a military escalation, made more dangerous by what are perceived to be restrictions imposed by the authorities on its ability to manoeuvre.

- Contingents attacked - After leaving five camps since August, the Minusma completed its "accelerated withdrawal" from Tessalit on Sunday. It did so, it said, in an "extremely tense and deteriorating environment, endangering the lives of its personnel", with shots being fired at one of its cargo aircraft and at its positions in the preceding days.

Part of the contingent, mainly Chadian, left by plane. But the rest took the road to Gao. Over 500 kilometres of desert, under constant threat from armed groups.

It was the same story with the withdrawal from Aguelhok the following day, due to a lack of flight authorisation.

According to the Minusma, these convoys were attacked with explosive devices, resulting in injuries. The GSIM claimed responsibility. A truck driver was seriously wounded and two others slightly injured on Thursday when gunmen opened fire on a logistics convoy from Ansongo, another camp to be evacuated, the mission reported.

- Abandoned equipment -Minusma said it had been forced to destroy or decommission equipment such as vehicles, ammunition and generators, in accordance with UN rules, because it was unable to take them with it. "Such losses could have been avoided" if 200 trucks had not been blocked in Gao since 24 September by restrictions on movement imposed by the authorities, she said.

Tanker trucks intended to supply the convoys are also stuck in Gao.

"Customs explained that the quantity of fuel was not justified", said an official from the mission. A Malian policeman based in Gao argues that the authorities are afraid "to see the Minusma delivering fuel to the jihadists".

- Exacerbated mistrust - Such an allegation, based on no evidence, reflects the mistrust between Minusma and the junta.

A confidential memo consulted by AFP and intended for the UN Security Council by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations lists the obstacles to be overcome by the Minusma: withholding of flight or travel permits, but also an embargo on imports for its attention or the impossibility of patrolling around its own camps to monitor them. The Minusma has drawn up a plan B for withdrawal, including measures as a last resort.

Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga accused the former French ally, whom the junta has also pushed out, of sparing "no effort to make the Minusma flee".

By speeding up its movement, the Minusma is upsetting the plans of the army, which refuses to give the separatists a free hand.

"The junta has taken the decision to kick out the Minusma, but they are having the withdrawal timetable imposed on them", says Jonathan Guiffard, associate expert at the Institut Montaigne.

- And now Kidal - Tensions are likely to increase with the departure of Kidal, the stronghold of the Tuareg rebellion and a major sovereignty issue.

The departure was initially planned for the second half of November. It could happen more quickly, with a Minusma official speaking of a matter of a few days.

An official of the mission said that non-essential personnel had begun to leave.

"We are not going to stand idly by and put our troops in danger", said a Chadian officer.

Given the sensitivity of the subject, several interlocutors remain anonymous.

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