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UN peacekeepers ahead of schedule as they pull out of northern Mali rebel stronghold

United Nations peacekeepers on Tuesday withdrew from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali weeks earlier than planned because of growing insecurity, leaving the town in the hands of ethnic Tuareg separatists.

Underscoring the uptick in violence, at least two peacekeepers were wounded en route to the largest U.N. base in Gao.

“The peacekeepers’ convoy that left Kidal this morning was the victim of two improvised explosive device attacks,” Myriam Dessables, head of communications for the U.N. mission known as MINUSMA, told The Associated Press.

Analysts say the violence signals the breakdown of a 2015 peace agreement signed between the government and the rebels. That deal was signed after Tuareg rebels drove security forces out of northern Mali in 2012 as they sought to create an independent state they call Azawad.

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