June 15, 2020 / 7:33 PM / in 17 days

Mali says 24 soldiers killed in ambush on Sunday

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Gunmen killed 24 Malian soldiers in an ambush on their convoy in central Mali on Sunday, a spokesman for the west African nation’s army said.

Eight survivors of the attack were found, Colonel Diarran Kone told Reuters, adding that four vehicles were destroyed.

The attack is the deadliest since November 2019 when 53 soldiers were killed during an assault on an army post in northern Mali.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in an area around 100 km (60 miles) south of the border with Mauritania.

But al Qaeda-linked Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) in known to operate around the area.

Jihadist groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda have carried out frequent attacks on the army and United Nations peacekeeping forces in Mali in recent weeks.

Two U.N. peacekeepers were killed on Saturday in a separate attack on a logistics convoy further north.

Mali has been in crisis since 2012 when al Qaeda-linked militants hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists and seized the desert north.

Forces from the West African country’s former colonial ruler France intervened the following year to drive them back. But the militants have regrouped and extended their operations into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Despite the presence of around 13,000 U.N. peacekeeping force some 5,100 French soldiers, the militants have expanded their attacks, hitting coastal nations such as Benin and Ivory Coast.

On Friday, France launched a coalition of West African and European allies to fight the militants in the Sahel, hoping more political cooperation and special forces would boost the military effort that has so far failed to stifle violence.

Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Bate Felix, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool

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