BAMAKO, MALI - Two U.N. peacekeepers were killed and “several others” were wounded in two attacks in central and northern Mali on Saturday, the United Nations mission in the country said.
In a statement, the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission said Blue Helmets had “repelled a complex attack” at dawn at its base in Ber, in the Timbuktu region, launched from several trucks armed with “rocket launchers, machine guns and other explosives.”
A second attack in Konna, in the central Mopti region, involved an improvised explosive device (IED).
“According to an initial toll, two peacekeepers were killed and several others were wounded,” it said.
Most dangerous mission
The Burkina Faso army confirmed that two of its peacekeepers had been killed in the Ber attack, with five wounded.
The United Nations has deployed about 12,000 troops and police in its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, which ranks as the most dangerous for blue helmets.
“I strongly condemn this brutal attack, which will not dent our determination to support Mali in its march towards peace,” said MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif in the statement, adding that attacks against peacekeepers “could constitute war crimes.”
Mali, the eighth largest country in Africa and one of the poorest in the world, has been struggling to return to stability after Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaida jihadists took control of the north of the country in early 2012, prompting France to intervene militarily.
The extremists were routed in a French-led military operation in 2013, but large stretches of the landlocked Sahel state remain out of government control.
Ethnic groups fight
In central Mali, the situation has been made even more unstable by a resurgence of violence between ethnic groups, notably Fulani nomadic herders and Dogon farmers over access to land.
A peace deal between the government and armed groups was signed in 2015, but implementation has been slow and attacks have continued in the center and north of the country.
Mali on Thursday extended by a year a state of emergency in place since a deadly November 2015 attack on a top hotel in the capital Bamako that claimed 20 lives.
The state of emergency was set to expire at the end of this month and the Cabinet approved the extension.
It gives authorities greater powers to take measures to pre-empt attacks and accords more powers to security forces and judicial authorities, the government said.