Mali’s northern Tuareg rebels said they have seized a base in Kidal vacated by the United Nations on Tuesday, potentially leading to a showdown in the strategic city where Mali’s army is hoping to wrest back control.
The UN mission, known as MINUSMA, has until Dec. 31 to pack up after Mali’s military junta ordered it to leave in June. Its withdrawal from other bases has already prompted fighting between Mali’s army and the rebels, who are vying for control of areas vacated by the peacekeepers.
Kidal is the eighth MINUSMA base to close in central and northern Mali and is one of the most important. It lies in a zone historically controlled by the rebels that Mali’s junta wants to take back.
MINUSMA confirmed its departure in a statement in which it said that it had destroyed equipment before leaving.
“The conditions for departure from all of these bases were extremely difficult,” it said.
The rebel movement, the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP-PSD) said in a statement it “now has control of areas abandoned by MINUSMA in Kidal.”
Security analysts said that fighting could now break out in Kidal, adding to insecurity in the West African country where Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State also operate.
The exact situation surrounding the base is unclear. One source with knowledge of events said that the rebels took control of the runway next to the camp shortly after the UN left. A local resident said the rebels had taken the camp, without providing details.
The UN said that it did not know what happened after it departed.
Mali’s military authorities have expressed concern that the UN has left bases without handing them over to the army.
“We note once more with regret that this retreat was not the subject of a handover” to the military, the junta said in a statement on X.
MINUSMA has operated in Mali since 2012 when Islamist militants took control of the north. Violence has persisted ever since.