Mali PM in first top-level visit to restive Kidal since 2014

The desert town of Kidal in northern Mali remains in the hands of former rebels who have been reluctant to hand back full control to the government.  By STRINGER (AFP/File)

The desert town of Kidal in northern Mali remains in the hands of former rebels who have been reluctant to hand back full control to the government. By STRINGER (AFP/File)

Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga landed in the restive town of Kidal on Friday, representing the first such visit since 2014 to an area that remains in the hands of former rebels.

Five French soldiers were wounded in Kidal on Thursday in an attack that France’s defence minister said was likely linked to Maiga’s visit.

The prime minister touched down at 10:00 am (1000 GMT) at a UN base after a day-long delay due to bad weather, where he was greeted by the head of the world body’s mission in the country, Mahamat Saleh Annadif.

Appointed in December, Maiga was charged with bolstering security as jihadists mount near-weekly attacks on security forces, raising safety fears ahead of the presidential election in July.

Around 4,000 French troops are deployed there as part of Operation Barkhane alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.

On Thursday, he visited Tessalit, northeastern Mali, to meet soldiers and local officials, accompanied by an entourage of eight ministers.

No Malian head of government has visited Kidal since 2014 when fighting broke out during a visit by then prime minister Moussa Mara which ended with the army suffering a heavy defeat.

The rebels, who rose up against the state in 2012 in a movement piggybacked by jihadists, signed a peace treaty in 2015 but have resisted handing back full control to the government.

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Maiga on Tuesday said he would visit “without arrogance, in order to listen, and understand the urgent needs of the population”.

The prime minister is also due in Gao and Timbuktu, two other northern cities frequently rocked by unrest.

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