Mali ex-rebels accuse army of more air strikesTue, 29 Aug 2023 17:07:00 GMT

Former rebels in northern Mali on Tuesday accused the armed forces of carrying out new strikes on their positions, reflecting mounting tensions in the flashpoint region.A spokesman for the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) told an AFP reporter that the armed forces carried out air strikes on the group at Anefis, in the Kidal region, for the second day running. He did not give details of any losses.Local elected officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that air strikes had taken place but did not give further details.The army used social media to report that the air strikes around Anefis had targed “columns of armed terrorist groups’ vehicles” preparing to attack civilians and military posts.The CMA brings together predominantly ethnic Tuaregs who in 2012 mounted a revolt in northern Mali.They were abetted by jihadists who later took their own insurgency into central Mali and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.In 2015, the CMA and other parties signed a peace agreement with Mali’s then-civilian government that formally ended the regional rebellion.The deal was hailed as historic, but it has always been fragile and parts of it remain unimplemented.Its future became clouded after relations went downhill between the former rebels and the junta that seized power in 2020.The two sides have lately fallen out over the future of a UN military base at Ber — one of a string of facilities that United Nations peacekeepers are scheduled to vacate as they withdraw from Mali by December 31.On Monday, the government urged armed groups who signed the 2015 peace deal to “return to the negotiating table.”At the same time, armed groups accused the Malian army of bombing their positions at Anefis but without causing casualties.The Malian army took to social media, as they did again Tuesday, saying they had “targeted a group of armed terrorist groups” and “neutralised” several combatants.The junta “has definitively and deliberately opted for escalation towards open hostilities, with consequences that are inevitably disastrous,” the CMA said late Monday.The junta has pounded out a nationalist message since forcing out Mali’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, three years ago.Its hardline approach and alliance with Russia prompted France in 2022 to withdraw its military forces from Mali, ending a nine-year-long anti-jihadist mission there.France’s pullout is being followed by the UN’s decade-long peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.The 13,000 member force this year was ordered to leave under pressure from the junta.