BAMAKO: Mali’s military said on Tuesday that it had entered the northern town of Kidal, a stronghold of Tuareg-dominated separatist groups that pose a major sovereignty threat to the junta-led government.
The general staff said in a statement on social media that the Malian Armed Forces took up a position in the town of Kidal this Tuesday, according to AFP news agency.
The move marks a significant symbolic success for Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020.
The military and the state had been virtually absent for years from the area, which is controlled by the predominantly Tuareg armed groups.
The insubordination of the town and of the Kidal region, where the military suffered humiliating defeats between 2012 and 2014, has been a long-standing source of irritation for the government in Bamako.
Mali’s army’s leaders have made the restoration of territorial sovereignty their mantra.
The army had drawn closer to Kidal over the weekend, clashing with rebel groups and separatist fighters in what may have signaled the eruption of fighting for the strategically important northern crossroads.
The rebels in Kidal on Friday cut telephone links in anticipation of a military offensive following several days of air attacks.
About 25,000 people live in the Kidal desert area, an important site on the road to Algeria and a historic hotbed of insurrection.
Violence in Mali
Violence has escalated in the north since August, with the army, militants, and rebels vying for control as the United Nations mission, MINUSMA, evacuates its camps, triggering a race to seize territory.
The rebels do not want the peacekeepers to hand their camps back to the Malian military, saying it would contravene previously agreed ceasefire and peace agreements struck with the government.
On October 2, the military dispatched a large convoy towards Kidal in anticipation of the UN’s departure.
But UN forces, citing threats to its peacekeeper and the “deteriorating security situation”, accelerated their pull-out, upsetting the ruling junta, which wanted the departure to coincide with the military’s arrival.
Instead, when the mission left the Kidal camp on October 31, the rebels immediately seized control.