UNITED NATIONS - Dozens of people were killed in northern Mali Wednesday by a suicide vehicle bombing inside a camp housing hundreds of former rebels and pro-government fighters, officials said.
Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said the “criminal, cowardly and barbaric” attack was “very clearly an attack on peace.”
“This attack should not distract us from our will to move forward to promote peace and to act against those who are trying to sabotage the peace process,” Diop said during a scheduled meeting on Mali at the U.N. Security Council in New York.
He said those who orchestrated and carried out the attack would be found and prosecuted. The foreign minister added that Mali would observe three days of national mourning.
Diop said the government is determined to honor and implement a 2015 peace agreement meant to stabilize volatile northern Mali.
“This agreement is the only framework making it possible to return to peace and stability in Mali,” he said.
Witnesses said the blast happened inside the Joint Operational Mechanism base in the city of Gao around 9 a.m. local time, just as hundreds of soldiers began to gather for a meeting.
The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous told the council as many as 60 people may have been killed.
The base hosts elements of the Malian Armed Forces and members of the Platform and Coordination of Azawad Movements who are to take part in mixed patrols, as called for in the peace agreement.
The camp was created as part of the deal signed by government and loyalist militias in 2015, two years after a French-led military intervention pushed Islamist militants out of power in the north.
A Human Rights Watch report released this week cites attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and occupation of villages by Islamist militants as failures by Mali’s government to protect citizens in northern and central areas.
Islamist militants have killed dozens of people over the last year in their quest to impose Sharia law, the report said.