Strikes on the strategic Malian town of Kidal on Tuesday killed at least six people, including children, witnesses and residents said, attributing them to Mali’s army. “There were several strikes this morning,” a health worker said on condition of anonymity. “There were six deaths including three children.” Other witnesses reported a higher death toll in the northern town, a stronghold of Tuareg-dominated rebel groups and a major sovereignty issue for Mali’s junta-led government.Some witnesses described air strikes while one cited drones, but few details were provided. The Malian army is equipped with drones.Almou Ag Mohamed, a spokesman for the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), an alliance of predominantly-Tuareg separatist groups, told AFP there had been 12 deaths, including four children, in three separate strikes.Malian authorities did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.At least one of the strikes hit a camp recently vacated by the UN stabilisation mission MINUSMA.The rebels, who control the town of Kidal, had signed a peace agreement with the government in 2015, but they have recently resumed hostilities. The Kidal region has long been a centre of defiance and a launching point for independence rebellions, an old source of irritation for governments in the capital Bamako.The army suffered humiliating defeats in the region between 2012 and 2014. – Military escalation -Mali has been locked in the grip of jihadism and a deep crisis since 2012.Since August, violence has escalated in the north, with the military, rebels and jihadists vying for control as the UN mission evacuates its camps.The rebels do not want the peacekeepers to hand their camps back to the Malian army, saying it would contravene the ceasefire and peace deals struck with the government in 2014 and 2015.The army on October 2 dispatched a large convoy towards Kidal in anticipation of the UN’s departure.But MINUSMA, citing the “deteriorating security situation” and threats to its peacekeepers, accelerated its pullout, upsetting the ruling junta in Bamako.The mission left the Kidal camp last week, and rebels immediately took control.Mali’s junta, which seized power in 2020, has made the restoration of sovereignty one of its mantras.It has demanded that MINUSMA leave the country without delay.Established in 2013, the mission has maintained around 15,000 soldiers and police officers in Mali. About 180 members have been killed in hostile acts.Since July, the mission has withdrawn nearly 6,000 civilian and uniformed personnel. The deadline for withdrawal, set by the UN Security Council, is December 31.