Mali struggles to fight growing violence in a northern region as UN withdraws

sky news africa


Attacks in northern Mali have more than doubled since U.N. peacekeepers completed the first phase of their withdrawal last month after a decade of fighting Islamic extremists, resulting in more than 150 deaths.

In one brazen attack militants targeted a triple-decker passenger boat, killing 49 civilians. And this week, another group of rebels attacked Malian army camps in the Lere locality on the border with Mauritania, leaving several security personnel dead and wounded.

Now, fleeing Malians fear the worst is yet to come in the prolonged violence.

“In Timbuktu, all the communities are leaving the city,” said Fatouma Harber, a resident of Timbuktu which is one of the worst-hit areas. “A few weeks ago, a rocket fell in the town, costing the life of a child. Everyone thinks it could fall on them or their children,” Harber added.

After more than three years in power, Mali’s military junta is struggling to fight growing violence in a hard-hit northern region after demanding the withdrawal of around 17,000 peacekeepers. At the same time, a 2015 peace deal with ethnic Tuareg rebels appears to have collapsed, deepening the security crisis.

The ongoing withdrawal of the U.N. force, in Mali since 2013, has created loopholes in the country’s overstretched security architecture, analysts said, the result of which is growing deadly attacks by both the jihadi groups and the former rebels, all eyeing new opportunities to dominate and control more regions.

The frequency of the violent attacks has never been this bad since 2020 when the country recorded the first of two coups that paved the way for the current junta, according to Mahamadou Bassirou Tangara, a Malian security analyst and researcher for the Conflict Research Network West Africa.

“The attacks are growing and the armed groups are carrying out attacks against civilians — that is not new, but (what is new is) the frequency and the intensity,” said Tangara.

Mali has averaged four violent attacks daily since the turn of the year, a 15% increase when compared to the same period last year, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a top database for conflicts around the world. But the situation is worse in the country’s hard-hit northern region, such as in Gao town where hostilities have been concentrated. Attacks in that part of Mali have more than doubled since Aug. 25 when the first phase of the U.N. peacekeepers’ withdrawal was completed, resulting in more than 150 deaths.

The Tuareg rebels claimed responsibility for a recent attack on a major Malian army base — a rarity that analysts have said signaled a failure of the crucial peace agreement signed with the rebels who once drove security forces out of northern Mali as they sought to create the state of Azawad there.

Known as the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP-PSD), the rebels have also claimed to have temporarily captured parts of Bourem in Gao region where Malian soldiers have been regrouping. The Malian government has referred to them as a “terrorist group” while they in turn have accused the army of violating their security agreement.

Despite being one of Africa’s top gold producers, Mali is ranked the sixth least developed nation in the world. With nearly half of its 22 million people living below the national poverty line, many more face a growing humanitarian crisis as a result of the violence.

More than a third of Mali’s citizens are already in need of humanitarian aid because of the fighting, according to the Mercy Corps aid group, and a growing number of locals in violence hot spots are forced to choose between staying back in their villages to keep their means of livelihoods at the risk of being killed or fleeing to safety.


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