A large convoy of the Malian army set off on Monday (October 2nd) in Gao towards the strategic region of Kidal, a stronghold of the Tuareg rebellion, two security officials said on condition of anonymity.

"As part of the reorganization of our posture in the north, we have started the redeployment of our forces in the northeastern region of Kidal," a Malian military official told AFP. The convoy left Gao on Monday morning, about 300 km southwest of Kidal, he said.

Another security official said the convoy consisted of 119 vehicles and was currently stopped on the road several dozen kilometers north of Gao.

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This operation takes place at a time when northern Mali has been the scene since late August of renewed hostilities by Tuareg-dominated separatist armed groups and an intensification of jihadist attacks against the Malian army.

Kidal's insubordination, a major sovereignty issue, is an old reason for irritation in Bamako, including for the junta that seized power by force in 2020. The colonels have made the restoration of state control over the entire territory one of their mantras.

Kidal occupies a special place in Sahelian geography, politics and consciousness. It is a crucial stop between Mali and Algeria, more than 1,500 km and 24 hours drive from the capital Bamako, hundreds of kilometers from the other major cities in the north, Gao and Timbuktu.

The 2015 agreement is shattering

It is not the central State that governs it and maintains order, but the Coordination des mouvements de l'Azawad, an alliance of armed groups predominantly Tuareg.

The Kidal region was one of the first to fall to rebels, some independentists, others Salafists, after the outbreak of insurrections in the north in 2012. It then fell under the sole control of the Salafists, then was taken over by the separatists in 2013 in the wake of the French intervention in Mali. Kidal has been under their control ever since. The rebels routed the Malian army when it tried to regain control in 2014.

The pro-independence or autonomist armed groups signed a peace agreement with the government in 2015. The jihadists have continued to fight the Malian army and the foreign presence and have spread their actions to central Mali, neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, contributing to plunging the Sahel into a deep security, humanitarian and political crisis.

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The agreement signed in 2015 is in turn being shattered. These developments coincide with the ongoing withdrawal of the UN mission, pushed out by the junta.

MINUSMA has begun to return its camps to the Malian authorities. The separatists believe that the UN hold in the north should return to their control under past agreements. However, the UN mission has yet to liberate its camps in Kidal, but also Aguelhok and Tessalit, even further north, by 31 December.

The head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, assured on the sidelines of the recent independence celebrations that the state would regain control of all the territories that escape it.

With AFP

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