Local rebels were forced to retreat from Timbuktu, Mali, after exchanging fire with Swedish forces in the area for two days, Swedish military officials said on Wednesday. The U.N.-affiliated peacekeepers said they had repelled two rebel attacks in as many days.
Swedish Lt. Col. Carl-Magnus Svensson told the BBC that heavily armed rebels in armored trucks had been forced to retreat north of the city after the attacks. “They could see they were in an inferior position, and retreated,” he said.
A pro-government militia reportedly said it had also retaken the eastern town of Menaka from Tuareg rebels.
Despite an increased presence of international peacekeeping forces in the country, Mali has seen a growing threat from militant rebels in its northeastern region, which the U.N. says endangers its peacekeeping missions. “These two events (Timbuktu and Menaka) are extremely worrying because they are endangering the peace process,” U.N. Special Envoy Mongi Hamdi said, calling on all parties to respect an earlier ceasefire deal, Reuters reported.
Hamdi reportedly said that forces from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg and Arab separatist groups, had claimed responsibility for the attacks. “Early this morning near Timbuktu, MINUSMA (The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) vehicles were targeted by the CMA. There are no victims. The CMA says it was a mistake and is calling for the departure of the army,” he said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Mediators from the U.N. and Algeria have been struggling to reach a peace agreement between the government and Tuareg rebel groups. In 2012, the rebels had briefly taken control of a majority of the country after brokering an alliance with Islamist groups. Following this, they were driven out by a French-led military coalition in 2013. The U.N. began deploying 10,000 peacekeepers in July 2013.