Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have claimed to have seized control of a military camp and posts in the town of Bourem after weeks of fighting against the national army and Wagner mercenaries, threatening to unravel a 2015 peace deal.
Tuesday’s capture of Bourem, situated between the ancient cities of Gao and Timbuktu, by the Tuareg rebel alliance called the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) comes as the military consolidated power in two coups in 2020 and 2021 and kicked out French forces and United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
“I confirm the CMA took control of the camp around 10am after very violent fighting,” said CMA spokesperson Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane. He said there had been casualties but that he did not yet know the death toll.
Mali’s army spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Unidentified armed groups had encircled the camp and roamed through the town,” local resident Mahamoud Ould Mety told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
“But the aircraft reacted against them. We can hear more firing, the FAMA (Malian Armed Forces) are everywhere in the town in numbers,” he added.
The region – the cradle of the armed rebellion that has swept into the Sahel region – has seen a resurgence of tension in recent weeks, triggered in part by the pullout of UN peacekeeping troops which helped in maintaining a fragile peace.
The CMA was formed by seminomadic Tuareg people in Mali’s north, who have long complained of government neglect and sought autonomy for the desert region they call Azawad.
The Tuareg alliance said it considered itself at “war” with the ruling military, which has teamed up with Russian military contractor Wagner Group after expelling French troops last year.
Tuareg rebels have accused Malian forces and Russian Wagner Group troops of violating the 2015 ceasefire.
France had intervened militarily in 2012 after armed groups linked to al-Qaeda had taken vast swathes of northern Mali following a Tuareg uprising. Armed groups have continued to carry out violent attacks on civilians and the army.
In late August, the military rulers had called on the armed groups to relaunch dialogue amid fears of fresh hostilities after the UN peacekeepers withdrew.
The Tuareg rebels worry that the pullout may give the military a “pretext” to reoccupy zones which the peace accords had ceded from central control.
After the UN peacekeepers quit a base last month there were clashes between troops and al-Qaeda-linked armed groups, but also between the army and the CMA.
Meanwhile, Malian army said on Tuesday that about 10 of its soldiers have been killed in an attack last week in the northern city of Gao. The attack was claimed by al-Qaeda-affiliated armed groups.
The UN peacekeeping mission has until December 31 to exit Mali after a decade of struggling to stabilise the country.
The 13,000-person mission was ordered to withdraw earlier this year under the demand of Mali’s military rulers, following the pullout of French troops.