The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali said Sunday it had brought forward its withdrawal from a base in the north of the country due to deteriorating security conditions.
During the operation, three of its soldiers were wounded when they came under fire, the force added a few hours later.
The MINUSMA force’s departure from Ber comes after the Malian army said Saturday that six soldiers died and 24 fighters from “armed terrorist groups” were killed in a skirmish in the area Friday.
Former rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group also said the army and the Russian mercenary group Wagner had attacked their forces Friday in Ber.
“MINUSMA has expedited its withdrawal from #Ber due to the deteriorating security situation in the area & the high risks posed to our #BlueHelmets,” the force said Sunday on Twitter, recently rebranded as “X.”
“It urges all concerned parties to refrain from any actions that could further complicate the operation.”
The number of troops involved or details on the original departure date were not specified.
In a message posted later Sunday, the force added: “The MINUSMA convoy that withdrew from #Ber today was attacked twice,” adding that three wounded peacekeepers had been evacuated to Timbuktu for treatment.
Attacks against peacekeepers can constitute war crimes under international law, the statement added.
Mali’s army in a statement issued Sunday evening, said it had taken possession of the Ber camp “after numerous incidents had marred the movement of our units.”
Army troops were targeted with sporadic fire as they advanced Sunday toward Ber, the statement said, without identifying the assailants.
The army also reported earlier incidents, while it was on the way to Ber.
It said armed “terrorist” groups had staged “an attempted incursion into the camp and harassing fire” against its troops, as well as other clashes, which left a total of six soldiers dead and four wounded, according to a military press release.
For several days now, the Ber area has been the scene of tensions between the army and the Russian Wagner paramilitary group against the CMA, an alliance of Tuareg-dominated groups seeking autonomy or independence from the Malian state and which controls vast areas of the north.
A CMA official, commenting on social media Sunday, had called for MINUSMA to “simply leave” Ber and not hand the camp over to the army.
The junta, which has ruled Mali since 2020 had pushed the U.N. Security Council in June to withdraw MINUSMA by the end of the year.
The U.N. Security Council in June decided to do so, and the first departures happened early this month from the central Ogossagou base.
The MINUSMA mission, which had some 11,600 troops and 1,500 police officers in the country, began in 2013 after separatist and jihadi rebellions broke out in northern Mali the previous year.
Its impending withdrawal from all of Mali has exacerbated tensions between the junta and the CMA ex-rebels.
CMA said Saturday that the Malian army was “determined to occupy MINUSMA’s holdings at all costs, including those in areas under CMA control,” in violation of a 2015 peace deal.
On Thursday, the former rebels announced the departure of all their representatives from the capital Bamako for “security” reasons, further widening the gap with the junta.
The CMA also criticizes the military for having approved a new constitution in June, which it says compromises the peace agreement.
Mali’s junta has fallen out with former colonial power France and turned to Russia for political and military support.
The deep security crisis that has engulfed northern Mali since 2012 has spread to the center of the country as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.