Mali junta has 'seized' rebel stronghold of Kidal

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
Mali  AFP - Kenzo Tribouillard
© AFP - Kenzo Tribouillard

Mali's junta leader announced on Tuesday that the armed forces had recaptured the strategic northern town of Kidal, a stronghold of Tuareg-dominated separatist groups that has long posed a major sovereignty issue for the government.

The Malian army and mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner have taken up positions in the town of Kidal, according to RFI's correspondent in the region, Serge Daniel.

At least one military aircraft even landed in the locality controlled for 11 years by the rebels.

"Today our armed and security forces have seized Kidal," Colonel Assimi Goita said in a statement read by a presenter during a special news flash on state television.

Other politicians welcomed the news too.
"We are all happy today in Mali, and we congratulate the transitional authorities and the armed forces," former prime minister Moussa Mara told RFI.

"We ask them to continue," he added, "and each of us must do our part. It is all together that we will stabilise our country, that we will put the country on the path to prosperity, solidarity and a lasting exit from the crisis."

Major victory

The capture of Kidal represents a  symbolic success for the ruling junta, which seized power in Mali in 2020, but struggles to control the vast and largely arid northern areas.   

The army and the state have been virtually absent from the town for years, which was controlled by the predominantly Tuareg armed groups.

The junta has long signalled its determination to retake the town.

The insubordination of the Kidal region, where the army of the previous government suffered humiliating defeats between 2012 and 2014, was a source of irritation for the junta in power in the capital, Bamako.

Mali's current military leaders have made the restoration of territorial sovereignty their mantra.

Insecurity challenges

The main challenge will be to keep the region in control and pacify it, as experts told RFI's correspondents in the region. 

Violence has escalated in the north of Mali since August with the military, rebels and jihadists vying for control as the UN mission (MINUSMA) evacuates its camps, a moive that has triggered a race to seize territory.

The rebels did not want the peacekeepers to hand their camps back to the Malian army, saying it would contravene a previously agreed ceasefire and peace deals struck with the government.

MINUSMA left its camp in Kidal on 31 October and the rebels immediately seized control.

Since July, the UN mission has withdrawn nearly 6,000 civilian and uniformed personnel, after the ruling junta demanded the mission depart from Mali.

The deadline for withdrawal, set by the UN Security Council is 31 December.

 (with AFP)