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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

At least nine dead as UN bases come under attack in Mali

The assault underlines the scale of the United Nations' struggles to contain a death toll among its peacekeepers that has already earned its Mali mission the unwelcome title of the world's deadliest active UN deployment

Six men toting guns and grenades drove up to the entrance of the UN mission's camp in Timbuktu, northwestern Mali, in the latest assault on the body in the country. Philippe Desmazes  / AFP
Six men toting guns and grenades drove up to the entrance of the UN mission's camp in Timbuktu, northwestern Mali, in the latest assault on the body in the country. Philippe Desmazes / AFP

A United Nations peacekeeper, a civilian contractor and at least seven Malians have been killed in attacks on two UN bases in Mali, in the latest assault on the organisation's presence in the country.

The Togolese peacekeeper and a Malian soldier were killed in an early morning assault on Monday in Douentza, in the central region of Mopti, according to a statement from the UN mission in the country, known as Minusma.

Hours later, six men toting guns and grenades drove up to the entrance of the mission's camp in Timbuktu in northwestern Mali, the UN said in a separate statement.

They opened fire on Malian UN security guards, killing five of them, as well as a policeman and a civilian contractor whose nationality was not specified.

A UN source said six guards had been killed, but the statement said a sixth guard was wounded but had not died.

Two suspected extremists were killed in the Douentza attack and six in Timbuktu.

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UN secretary general Antonio Guterres condemned the violence, stressing that attacks targeting UN peacekeepers "may constitute war crimes under international law".

The body's 15-member Security Council urged Mali to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The assault underlines the scale of the UN's struggles to contain a death toll among its peacekeepers that has already earned its Mali mission the unwelcome title of the world's deadliest active UN deployment.

Another peacekeeper was lightly wounded in Douentza and six others suffered injuries in Timbuktu, according to the UN statements.

"I don't have enough words to condemn this cowardly and ignoble act a few hours after the terrorist attack we endured in Douentza," said UN special representative for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Saleh Annadif.

"We must combine all our efforts in order to identify and apprehend those responsible for these terrorist acts so that they can answer to their crimes in court."

The Timbuktu attack attracted the attention of Malian forces and French helicopters stationed in the area, who fired on the attackers.

On Monday night, reinforcements were deployed to both bases and in the city of Timbuktu itself.

Active in Mali since 2013, Minusma is constantly targeted by extremists that roam northern and central Mali, and has also been beset by operational difficulties, including a lack of helicopters and allegations of abuse lodged by the population.

In 2012, key cities in northern Mali fell under the control of extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda, who exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, leading to a French-led military intervention and the eventual deployment of Minusma.

Although the militants were largely ousted, attacks have continued on UN and French forces, civilians and the Malian army.

Monday's attacks in Mali came hours after an assault in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, where 18 people were gunned down at a restaurant popular with foreigners.

France is pushing for five countries in the western-central Sahara region to form a joint "G5" force to combat extremism. It would comprise 5,000 men drawn from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

But the plan has been met with concerns over funding, with an estimated €400 million (D22.9m) required to make it operational.

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