UN peacekeepers made an early withdrawal from their camp at Tessalit in northern Mali because their “lives were in danger”, the United Nations mission said Sunday. Malian troops on Saturday took over the Tessalit camp, the army said on social media, the first handover in the Kidal region where clashes with armed groups have flared recently. The withdrawal of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) after 13 years has ignited fears that fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions for control of the territory. The pullout was completed “in an extremely tense and degraded security context putting in danger the lives of personnel”, according to a MINUSMA statement received Sunday. UN staff had previously been “forced to shelter in bunkers several times because of shooting”, the statement said. It gave the example of October 19, when incoming fire targeted a C130 transport plane on landing at Tessalit. No injuries or serious damage were recorded. Before quitting the base, MINUSMA said it took “the difficult decision to destroy, deactivate or put out of service expensive equipment such as vehicles, munitions, generators and other items”. The last convoy left Tessalit on Saturday by road heading for Gao, the biggest town in northern Mali. Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, had in June demanded the mission leave despite being in the grip of jihadism and raging crises. The withdrawal of around 11,600 soldiers and 1,500 police officers is due to continue until December 31, and has exacerbated rivalries between armed groups present in the north. The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) — an alliance of predominantly Tuareg groups seeking autonomy or independence — has carried out a series of attacks on army positions. And the Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) has also increased attacks against the military. Before Tessalit, MINUSMA had transferred five other camps to the Malian authorities since August. But the evacuation of the camps in the Kidal region, and especially the town of Kidal, a separatist bastion, remains a major challenge. The separatists do not want the camps handed back to the Malian army, saying it would contravene ceasefire and peace deals struck with Bamako in 2014 and 2015.