A Chadian soldier with the UN stands at the front of a convoy outside the city of Gao, after withdrawing from bases in northern Mali (Picture: UN/AFP)
Fifteen UN peacekeepers withdrawing from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali were hurt after their vehicles were struck by explosives.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hit convoys on two separate occasions this week, according to the United Nations.
Eight peacekeepers injured on Wednesday were evacuated by air and are now ‘reported to be in a stable condition’, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Seven peacekeepers hurt on Friday, meanwhile, were also evacuated by air, he added, but did not provide details on their conditions.
Mr Dujarric said the convoy was also hit by IUDs on two occasions on Tuesday as the convoy was leaving the UN base in Kidal and at least two peacekeepers were injured.
JNIM, an extremist group with links to al Qaida, claimed responsibility for the Tuesday explosions.
The peacekeepers were originally due to withdraw from the rebel strong hold in a few weeks time, but left earlier due to growing tensions in the area.
UN convoys on their way to Gao on October 25 (Picture: UN/AFP)
Mr Dujarric said the UN does not know if the IEDs that hit the convoy had been there for a long time or whether the peacekeepers were deliberately targeted.
But he said the convoy is heading to Gao on the east bank of the Niger River, and it would be clear to most what route they’re taking to get there.
The convoy is expected to arrive in the city by the end of the weekend and from there peacekeepers can fly out of the country.
Mali’s military junta, which overthrew the democratically elected president in 2021, ordered the nearly 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to leave in June after a decade of working to stem a jihadi insurgency.
The UN Security Council then kickstarted a six-month exit from Mali, with the aim of having everyone out by December 31.
The UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, which started in 2013 and known as MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission), was one of the most dangerous in the world, with 300 members killed so far.
Peacekeepers outside a polling station in Kidal in 2013 (Picture: AP)
About 850 UN peacekeepers had been based in Kidal along with 150 other mission personnel.
A UN employee told the Associated Press that peacekeepers left the base in convoys after Mali’s junta refused to authorise flights to repatriate UN staff and equipment.
The junta did allow the medical evacuation flights, said Mr Dujarric said, but added: ‘We’re not operating as many flights as we should be able to operate in order to up the safety of our peacekeepers who are moving on the ground.’
After the convoy left Kidal the town was taken over by ethnic Tuareg rebels, who have been clashing with Mali’s military.
Experts say the violence shows the breakdown of a 2015 peace agreement between the government and the rebels.
That deal was signed after Tuareg rebels drove security forces out of northern Mali in 2012 as they sought to create an independent state.
The peacekeepers were withdrawing from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali.