A coalition of armed groups who are signatories to a major peace agreement in northern Mali said Sunday September 10, 2023 they were preparing to defend themselves against the ruling junta, accusing it of violating mutual security commitments.
The Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP) coalition urged civilians to move away from military facilities in what appeared to be a prelude to conflict.
The governorate of the eastern Gao region on Sunday said it had installed a 30-day overnight curfew between 8:00 pm and 6:00 am, with only security vehicles exempted.
The armed groups’ statement followed a suicide attack Friday on a military base in northern Mali, which itself came a day after deadly strikes on an army camp and a passenger boat by suspected jihadists killed 64 people.
The region — the cradle of a jihadist insurgency that has swept into three Sahel nations — has seen a resurgence of tension in recent weeks, triggered in part by the pullout of UN peacekeeping troops from Mali.
The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) — a coalition of Tuareg independence and Arab nationalist groups, which is one of the parties to the strategic Framework — said late Saturday it had shot down an army plane in the Gao region after they came under attack.
If confirmed, it would be the first time in many years that this has happened. The army referred to an “incident” without giving further details.
The head of the airforce, General Alou Boi Diarra, said on state television that an aircraft had experienced “some technical problems” that had forced the crew to bail out, and the plane had crashed.
The crew had been recovered safely, he added. He did not specify what mission the plane was carrying out. The Framework (CSP) has, in recent weeks, denounced several violations of the 2014 ceasefire and the 2015 peace accord.
It has also condemned what it termed the junta’s “current ceasefire strategy,” seeing that as designed to rupture it, and has warned it would have to resort to “all measures of legitimate defence” across the northern Azawad region.
The Framework groups worry that the withdrawal of UN troops may give the junta a “pretext” to reoccupy zones which the 2014 and 2015 deals had ceded from central control.
After the UN peacekeepers quit their base last month, there were clashes between troops and jihadists, but also between the army and the CMA.
The Framework says that after the base was vacated, the army and Russian Wagner paramilitaries, which it considers terrorists, visited violence, including summary executions and abuses, including arbitrary arrest and looting, on locals.
The Framework was created in May 2021 by the main northern armed groups who inked the 2015 peace deal, which is now generally considered moribund.
The jihadists, who first fought the army alongside Tuareg and Arab rebels before turning against them, are not affected by the accord and have spread their operations to central Mali and Burkina Faso.
Landlocked, impoverished Mali has been struggling with insecurity since 2012, when a revolt led by ethnic Tuaregs erupted in the north of the country.
The northern rebellion was formally ended by a peace agreement signed between the region’s rebels and the Malian government in 2015. However, the fragile deal came under strain after the civilian government was toppled in 2020 and replaced by a junta.