UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A 9-kilometer-long U.N. convoy withdrawing from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali arrived at its destination after a harrowing 350 kilometer (220-mile) journey that saw vehicles hit six improvised explosive devices and injure 37 peacekeepers, the United Nations said Wednesday.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the convoy, comprising 143 vehicles carrying 848 peacekeepers and equipment, left their base in Kidal on Oct. 31 and arrived in the eastern town of Gao on the Niger River on Tuesday night after a journey “under the most difficult circumstances.”
In June, Mali’s military junta, which overthrew the democratically elected president in 2021, ordered the nearly 15,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSMA to leave after a decade of working on stemming a jihadi insurgency.
The U.N. Security Council terminated the mission’s mandate June 30, and the U.N. is in the throes of what Secretary-General António Guterres calls an “unprecedented” six-month exit from Mali by Dec. 31.
The junta refused to authorize flights to repatriate U.N. equipment and civilian personnel from Kidal and the convoy was denied air support.
During the withdrawal, the U.N. said eight peacekeepers on the convoy were injured by IEDs on Nov. 1, seven on Nov. 3 and 22 on Nov. 4. On a positive note, Dujarric said the 37 injured peacekeepers are in stable condition or have been discharged.
The departure from Kidal marked the closure of MINUSMA’s eighth base out of a total of 13, Dujarric said, adding that half of MINUSMA’s 13,871 personnel have now departed.
Over the next weeks, he said, MINUSMA will end its presence in Ansongo in the Gao region, followed by Mopti in the southeast.
In the upcoming withdrawals, Dujarric said the U.N. wants “to ensure that the Malian authorities cooperate with us at every level, especially on air support because that is critical to the safety of our colleagues.”
MINUSMA is consolidating its presence in the three remaining bases in Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako which will be converted “into liquidation sites” on Jan. 1 after the withdrawals are completed on Dec. 31, Dujarric said.
A small U.N. team will remain at the three bases during the liquidation phase to oversee the transport of assets belonging to countries that contributed troops and police to MINUSMA and dispose of U.N. equipment, either returning it or sending it to other U.N. missions, selling it or giving it to the Malian authorities, he said.