The U.N. mission in Mali ended a decade of deployment in the crisis-wracked country on Sunday, meeting a December 31 deadline agreed after Mali’s military leaders ordered it to leave.
The U.N. stabilization mission (MINUSMA) had been in place since 2013, and its withdrawal is igniting fears that fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement published Sunday that MINUSMA had completed its agreed withdrawal by December 31, 2023.
The U.N. chief praised the missions’ “key role” in protecting civilians and supporting the peace process in Mali, which is in the grip of jihadist violence and other crises.
He also recognized the work of MINUSMA in “ensuring respect for the cease-fire in the context of the 2015 peace and reconciliation agreement” between Bamako and northern rebel groups), as well as its efforts toward restoring state authority.
Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, in June demanded the departure of the mission, which for the past decade has maintained around 15,000 soldiers and police in the country.
Hundreds of MINUSMA members have been killed in hostile circumstances, mostly blamed on armed groups linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic state group.
Guterres paid tribute to the “311 MINUSMA personnel who lost their lives and the more than 700 who were injured in the cause of peace.”
A “liquidation phase” will begin from January 1, involving activities such as handing over equipment to the authorities with smaller teams at sites in Gao and Bamako.
Violence has swept the fragile and poor country, spilling over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger and inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.
Thousands of civilians and fighters have died and millions have been displaced.