Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Nine UN peacekeepers killed in Mali

THREAT CARRIED OUT?A Malian military source said that there had been warnings from groups claiming to have planned attacks to precede a Muslim festival today

AFP, BAMAKO

Suspected Muslim extremists on motorbikes killed nine UN peacekeepers from Niger on Friday in northeastern Mali, in the deadliest ever attack on the mission, Malian military sources said.

An officer from Niger with MINUSMA — the UN mission in Mali — told reporters that the ambush had been staged by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an al-Qaeda-linked militia behind numerous attacks in the restive west African nation.

“This is the deadliest attack against the UN mission in Mali,” a statement from MINUSMA said, adding that aircraft had been deployed to secure the area.

The ambush brought to 30 the number of deaths in the mission since its deployment in July last year.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou vowed to maintain his country’s participation in MINUSMA, saying that security forces from his country “will not step back” from “the fight against terrorism.”

“They will continue to contribute to MINUSMA,” Issoufou told a local television channel.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he was “outraged” by the attack, which he described as “a serious violation of international law.”

The UN Security Council echoed Ban’s condemnation, while the African Union’s mission in Mali and the Sahel expressed its “consternation” and denounced the “vile act.”

Britain called it unjustifiable, while France said the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

MINUSMA and a senior military official from Niger said the convoy of peacekeepers were on a supply run in the northeastern Menaka-Asongo corridor when they were ambushed by men on motorbikes.

The Nigerien MINUSMA source said MUJAO had formed an alliance with militants from the Fulani ethnic group in the Gao region, where the attack took place.

“The terrorists had threatened to carry out attacks in the run-up to the feast of Tabaski. They’ve just carried them out,” a Malian military source said, using the west African name for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha taking place today.

The deaths mark the first losses suffered by Niger’s 600-strong force, which was deployed to Mali in January last year.

The region of Gao is part of a large swathe of desert which is the cradle of a Tuareg separatist movement that wants independence for the homeland it calls “Azawad,” and from which several rebellions have been launched since the 1960s.

About 50 Malian solders were killed near Menaka — an isolated Sahara town in eastern Mali — and the flashpoint town of Kidal further north by Tuareg and Arab insurgents in May.

Ten UN peacekeepers — all from Chad — have been killed by roadside bombs in the Kidal region in recent weeks, prompting the government in N’Djamena to complain to the UN that the Chadian contingent of MINUSMA are suffering discrimination.

MUJAO claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on a MINUSMA base close to the border with Algeria in August. The group joined forces with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine in 2012 to take control of much of the desert north, including the three main towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

They seized power on the back of an uprising by ethnic Tuareg separatists and imposed strict Shariah law and punishments for 10 months, before being ousted from the towns and forced back into desert hideouts by a French military intervention launched in January last year.

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