Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said on Tuesday that they had seized control of a military camp in the town of Bourem, a further sign of the unravelling of a 2015 peace accord that had kept fighting between the rebels and the army at bay.
A rebel alliance called the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) has been fighting the army since August, clashes triggered in part by the departure of a United Nations peacekeeping mission which for years had helped broker a fragile peace.
But clashes appear to be intensifying as both sides seek to control territory in areas recently vacated by the UN.
Bourem is just 90 km (55 miles) north of the strategic city of Gao.
“I confirm the CMA took control of the camp around 10 am after very violent fighting,” said CMA spokesperson Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane.
He said there had been casualties but that he did not yet know the death toll.
Mali’s army spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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 militant groups that continue to carry out violent attacks on 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 UN 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.
But until recently large scale fighting was rare.
Conflict between the army and the rebels could exacerbate an insurgency in Mali, where groups linked to Al-Qaeda control large swathes of territory.