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Amid UN mission’s withdrawal, significant clashes erupted in north between govt forces and former rebels for first time since 2015 peace agreement; coming weeks could see more violence and collapse of peace process.
MINUSMA withdrawal put 2015 peace deal under threat. Permanent Strategic Framework, which gathers northern armed groups signatory to 2015 Algiers peace agreement with Bamako, 1 Aug warned about “serious imminent risks” associated with handover to Malian army of UN mission (MINUSMA) camps in areas controlled by signatory armed groups. In following days, major clashes erupted between alliance of former rebel groups Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and military for first time since peace deal implementation. CMA alleged army and Russian paramilitary Wagner Group 4 Aug attacked CMA-controlled border post in Foyta locality (Timbuktu region) near Mauritania, killing two CMA elements; govt forces and CMA 11-12 Aug also clashed near MINUSMA camp in Ber (also Timbuktu region), leaving unclear number dead. MINUSMA 13 Aug accelerated withdrawal from Ber camp in light of security situation, completing it same day, and 16 Aug also left Goundam camp (Timbuktu). CMA 28-29 Aug accused army of launching airstrikes on CMA positions near Anefis town in Kidal region.
Jihadist violence continued in centre and north. Islamic State Sahel Province 3 Aug attacked army-escorted convoy in Essailal locality, Menaka region (north), killing at least six soldiers. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 8 Aug imposed blockade on Timbuktu city, creating food and aid shortages, to oppose Malian army’s deployment in context of MINUSMA’s withdrawal. In Bandiagara region (centre), suspected JNIM elements 18 Aug raided Yarou village, killing 23 people.
In other important developments. Bamako and Ouagadougou 1 Aug warned West African regional bloc (ECOWAS) against any military intervention in Niger, saying it would amount to declaration of war against Mali and Burkina Faso. After Niger 6 Aug closed its airspace, French flag carrier Air France next day suspended all flights to and from Bamako (and Ouagadougou) citing “geopolitical situation in the Sahel”. In escalating row, France and Mali 7-9 Aug stopped issuing visas to each other’s nationals.
In likely attempt to assert power, Interim leader Col. Goïta conducted major cabinet reshuffle, while new constitution entered into force; violence remained elevated in central and northern regions.
President reshuffled cabinet, sidelining prominent figures of the transition. Interim President Col. Goïta 1 July carried out govt reshuffle, bringing 13 new ministers into govt. Reshuffle saw Goïta loyalists replace several ministers loyal to PM Choguel Maïga, and 2015 peace agreement signatory groups lose two out of four ministries; reshuffle also strengthened Goïta at the expense of four other colonels at the heart of power since May 2021 coup, including defence minister, Col. Sadio Camara.
IS Sahel faced resistance from signatory armed groups, rival jihadists in north. Presumed Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel) militants 6 July attacked UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) convoy near Ouatagouna town, Gao region, killing three civilians and wounding 14 people, including three peacekeepers. Also in Gao, al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 8-9 July engaged IS Sahel fighters in Hourara, Tandadjdadjorane and Fitili villages, reportedly taking over some bases. 2015 peace accord signatory, Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, 11 July killed around ten civilians suspected of collusion with IS Sahel in Inazole village, Ménaka region.
Violence remained high in centre as govt sustained offensive against jihadists. In Mopti region (centre), govt forces and Russian paramilitary Wagner Group early July conducted air and group operation against JNIM in Sévéri village, killing at least seven militants. Also in Mopti, JNIM 2 July killed 28 ethnic Dogon Dan Na Ambassagou militiamen in Nouh-Bozo and Bangassi villages. In Ségou region, army 12 July allegedly killed at least 20 JNIM militants as they tried to ambush supply convoy in Sokolo area; and JNIM 27 July reportedly killed at least 12 civilians in Tiouga village.
In other important developments. Constitutional Court 21 July endorsed constitutional referendum, and Goïta next day promulgated new constitution. MINUSMA 3 July presented plan for mission’s withdrawal to FM Abdoulaye Diop; MINUSMA-govt joint working groups tasked with carrying out withdrawal by 31 Dec set up 11 July. Bamako 31 July expressed support for coup leaders in Niger (see Niger).
UN Security Council ended UN mission at Bamako’s request, while Mali voters approved new Constitution in referendum, and jihadist violence continued in centre and north.
UN mission set to leave Mali after authorities revoked consent. Ahead of UN Security Council’s vote on renewal of UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA)’s mandate, FM Abdoulaye Diop 16 June requested MINUSMA’s departure “without delay”, citing “crisis of confidence” between authorities and decade-old mission. Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP), which gathers northern armed groups signatory to 2015 peace agreement, 21 June said departure of UN mission “without a credible alternative” would strike “fatal blow” to peace deal. UN Security Council 30 June terminated MINUSMA’s mandate, with mission to cease operations, transfer tasks and withdraw personnel by 31 December.
Voters approved new Constitution in referendum. Mali 18 June held constitutional referendum on new constitution strengthening presidential powers, providing amnesty for coup perpetrators, and potentially paving the way for Transitional President Col. Goïta to run in presidential election scheduled for Feb 2024. CSP members did not allow vote to proceed in Kidal town (north) under their control, while Malian civil society-led election observation mission 18 June said around 80 polling stations remained closed in Mopti region (centre) due to insecurity. Electoral authority in following days claimed turnout was 38% and 23 June said new constitution approved with 97% of vote. United Front Against the Referendum, made up of 21 political parties and civil society organisations, in following days denounced massive fraud and filed appeals to Constitutional Court.
Jihadist violence continued in centre and north. In Mopti (centre), Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel) militants 3 June killed 15 pastoralists at Teberemt village, and al-Qaeda affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 6 June killed at least 10 Dan Na Ambassagou militiamen in ambush in Korn’Ga village. In north, JNIM and IS Sahel militants 3 June clashed in Tatakarat area, Gao region, leaving eight IS Sahel militants dead; JNIM militants next day ambushed IS Sahel unit in Timatalwayene area, Timbuktu region, killing ten. Also in Timbuktu, JNIM 9 June attacked MINUSMA patrol, killing one UN peacekeeper.
Authorities scheduled constitutional referendum for June amid mixed reactions, and UN report on 2022 Moura massacre prompted sharp response from Bamako, contributing to tense climate facing UN mission.
Malians to vote on new constitution in June. Military govt 5 May announced 18 June for constitutional referendum, originally scheduled for 19 March. New constitution expected to pass fairly easily despite concerns from some segments of society that it could open door for military junta members to run in presidential election expected in Feb 2024. Notably, Appel du 20 février coalition of political parties and civil society organisations 7 May claimed transitional authorities do not have mandate to adopt new constitution and lack sufficient territorial control to hold credible vote.
UN released long-awaited report on Moura massacre, heightening tension. UN Human Rights Office 12 May released report on March 2022 massacre in Moura village, Mopti region, concluding that Malian military and unspecified “foreign elements” killed about 500 civilians. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk same day said exactions could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Bamako 13 May condemned “biased” and “fictious” report, claiming only “terrorists” were killed in Moura; also opened judicial inquiry against UN fact-finding mission over alleged “military conspiracy” and “espionage”.
IS Sahel maintained position in north, JNIM launched attacks in west. Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel) 9 May ambushed and killed two members of 2015 Algiers peace agreement signatory armed group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad near Intadeyni village, Ménaka region (north east). In relatively uncommon attacks in Kayes region (west), suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 8 May ambushed troops near Kita town, 130km from capital Bamako, leaving six soldiers dead; 14 May reportedly attacked customs post in Melgué town, with unknown number of casualties.
Tensions between Bamako and signatory armed groups declined. National Reconciliation Minister Col. Ismaël Wagué 12 May met with representatives of coalition of formerly separatist armed groups signatory to Algiers Accord, Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), in Kidal city; parties likely talked about modalities for holding constitutional referendum in CMA-held territory, as CMA has previously come out against new constitution.
Tensions continued to mount between transitional govt and coalition of northern armed groups signatory to 2015 Algiers peace accord, and Islamic State gained further ground in Ménaka region.
Relations between govt and Algiers Accord signatory groups deteriorated further. Army aircraft 5 April flew over Kidal city (Kidal region in north), headquarters of coalition of former rebel groups Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA); CMA responded with warning shots, and same day denounced ceasefire “violation” and “grave provocation”. In effort to reboot peace process, accord’s international mediation mechanism (led by Algeria) 9 April proposed meetings with interim govt 17 April, and with govt and signatory groups 24 April, which Bamako declined. Further stoking tensions, armed forces reported arresting on 23 April 12 “terrorists” in rare operation in Ménaka region (also north); CMA however claimed detainees were coalition members. Algerian FM Ahmed Attaf 27 April visited Bamako, held talks with interim president, Col. Goïta; in joint statement, leaders committed to reviving 2015 deal.
Islamic State pursued advance in Ménaka, violence continued in centre. Following weeks-long fighting with al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), Islamic State Sahel Province 11 April took control of Tidermène town (Ménaka), in effect encircling regional capital Ménaka and driving displacement. In Mopti region (centre), govt forces and allied Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group elements 1 April reportedly killed nine civilians in Kourkanda-Peulh village; military claimed eight of those killed were jihadists. Suspected JNIM combatants 22 April launched suicide attacks in Sévaré town (also Mopti), leaving 10 civilians dead and over 60 wounded; military reportedly killed 28 assailants.
Tensions with UN resurfaced ahead of UN mission in Mali’s mandate renewal. UN Security Council members at 12 April meeting expressed concern about frozen peace process with northern armed groups and possible presidential election delay after Malian authorities in March indefinitely postponed constitutional referendum; ahead of vote on UN mission (MINUSMA)’s mandate renewal in June, UNSG Special Representative for Mali El-Ghassim Wane also urged Bamako to lift restrictions on MINUSMA operations. Meanwhile, as disinformation campaign sought to attribute 22 April attack to MINUSMA, angry mob 23 April assaulted and wounded two MINUSMA staff in Sévaré.
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