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Mali Faces an Increase of Tuareg Armed Groups Attacks in the North

Armed groups from northern Mali on Tuesday claimed they captured the key town of Bourem, located between Gao and Timbuktu, before pulling out of the town, fuelling fears of the collapse of a peace deal between the ex-rebels and government forces.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the Malian military said it had repelled an attack involving car bombs that left 10 soldiers dead and 13 injured, while 46 “terrorists” were killed.

A senior army official also told French news agency AFP that troops had regained control of its positions in Bourem with the help of air support.

But a few hours earlier, a coalition of armed factions that signed a peace agreement with the state in 2015, the Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP), issued a statement saying it launched an operation at Bourem, taking “control of the camp and various advanced posts” from the army and the allied Russian paramilitary group Wagner.

CSP spokesman Mohamed El Maouloud Ramadane said in the statement that “intense fighting” preceded the town’s capture.

Then these attackers withdrew, the spokesman said.

“Our aim is not to stay in the towns,” he explained however.

Rebels at ‘war’ with the junta

The attack comes as one of the signatories of the CSP, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), on Monday said it considered itself at “war” with the ruling junta.

The region is also the cradle of a jihadist insurgency that has swept into the Sahel nations.

The city of Bourem lies on the road between the ancient city of Timbuktu and Gao, close to the Niger River, heading towards the Tuareg fiefdom of Kidal further to the north.

Rivalries have recently intensified between the multitude of armed factions vying for control of the north.

The revolt led by the alliance of predominantly Tuareg armed groups was launched over ten years ago, in 2012, against the previous Malian government.

They signed a peace agreement three years later, in June 2015, a fragile deal, known as the Algiers agreement.

Yet, this accord came under strain after the civilian government was toppled in 2020 and replaced by the junta currently in power.

A local commander, who asked not to be named, said: “We have retaken control of the camp and area around Bourem after the air force intervened and combed the area.”

The CSP framework said it had acted in “legitimate defence in the face of provocations by terrorists from the Malian army accompanied by the Wagner militia.”

Forced UN withdrawal

Another difficulty is that Mali’s ruling junta earlier this year ordered the UN mission, known as MINUSMA, to withdraw, following the pull-out of French troops in 2022.

“The junta accuses MINUSMA of being an instrument of France, to help the French to come back to Mali,” one analyst told RFI English.

“The army is getting the attention of Malians every time they blame France, because of the deep bitterness Malians feel toward the colonial past. This isn’t helping.”

The UN peacekeeping mission, made of 13,000-person, has until December 31 to exit Mali after a decade of struggling to stabilise the country.

(with newswires)

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