Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga made his first visit to the country’s troubled north Thursday with a stop due in the city of Kidal, which is still in the hands of former rebels. Just hours before the visit, five French soldiers were wounded in Kidal when their base was attacked, the French army said in Paris, demonstrating the scale of the problem facing troops in the region.
Around 4,000 French troops are deployed under Operation Barkhane alongside the United Nations 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali. Maiga was appointed in December charged with bolstering security as jihadists mount near-weekly attacks on security forces, raising fears for safety ahead of a presidential election due in July. He arrived in Tessalit, northeastern Mali, on Thursday morning and was expected in Kidal by the afternoon.
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 remained resistant to handing back full control to the government.
Maiga said on Tuesday 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.