More than 200 Malian troops reached the northern city of Kidal on Thursday, the army said, in the military’s first permanent deployment there since being chased out by Tuareg separatist rebels in 2014.
Photos shared by the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission showed state governor Sidi Mohamed Ag Ichrach welcoming the army convoy to Kidal, the epicenter of repeated rebellions by semi-nomadic Tuaregs seeking an independent state called Azawad.
It marks a symbolic victory for the government’s efforts to restore state authority in northern Mali and implement a 2015 peace deal with the rebels that promised greater local autonomy in exchange for the return of state forces.
In a sign of the precarious security situation, peacekeepers and helicopters from the U.N. mission in Mali had been deployed to accompany the convoy, while the foreign minister tweeted on Monday that “all of Mali is holding its breath”.
In all, 428 soldiers will be deployed across the Kidal region in the coming days, officials say, and the army presence should be progressively extended to other parts of the north, where the state’s authority is weak.