By Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO (Reuters) -Mali’s military reported deadly clashes on Tuesday with northern Tuareg rebels, who said they briefly seized control of a military camp in the town of Bourem in a further sign of the unravelling of a 2015 peace deal.
An alliance called the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) has been fighting the army since August, triggered in part by the departure of a United Nations peacekeeping mission which for years had helped broker a fragile calm.
But clashes appear to be intensifying as both sides seek to control territory in areas recently vacated by the U.N. Bourem is just 90 km (55 miles) north of the strategic city of Gao.
The general staff of the Malian armed forces said 10 combatants on its side were killed on Tuesday repelling an attack near Bourem and said 46 enemy fighters had been killed during the operation.
CMA spokesperson Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane earlier said there had been casualties as a result of the CMA’s battle to seize a military camp in Bourem, but did not give a death toll.
“I confirm the CMA took control of the camp around 10 a.m. after very violent fighting,” he said.
He later told Reuters that the CMA had retreated and that the army held the town of Bourem, saying the rebel group’s objective had not been to stay.
Previous CMA strategy has been to attack military camps to take weapons, vehicles and ammunition, although Ramadane did not say if this had occurred.
Reuters was not able to confirm independently what happened.
The general staff did not mention the base or refer to the CMA by name, but said the situation around Bourem was under control. Surviving rebels withdrew toward the north, its statement late on Tuesday said.
CMA was formed by semi-nomadic Tuareg people in Mali’s north, who have long complained of government neglect and sought autonomy for the desert region they call Azawad.
A Tuareg uprising in 2012 was taken over by Islamist groups that continue to attack civilians and the army.
CMA signed up to a peace deal with the government and pro-government militia in 2015. But tensions have resurfaced since the military consolidated power in two coups in 2020 and 2021, teamed up with Russian military contractor Wagner Group, and kicked out French forces and U.N. peacekeepers.
Peace has never been easy – tensions have often arisen between northern armed groups and the army since 2015, and last year a coalition of groups pulled out of talks.
Conflict between the army and the rebels could worsen an Islamist insurgency in Mali, where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State control large areas.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Additional reporting by Fadimata Kontao; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)