A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger was shot dead by militants in northern Mali on Friday, the U.N.’s mission to the country said, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks on Blue Helmets in the conflict-torn country.
“Today at 7:00 pm two unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Minusma vehicle in Gao City,” the mission, known by its acronym Minusma, said in the statement.
The peacekeeper died on the way to hospital in Gao, the main city in northern Mali, the statement added.
The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and Head of Minusma, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said he was “outraged that once again peacekeepers are being attacked”.
Minusma is one of the most dangerous U.N. missions, with more than 160 peacekeepers killed in Mali since 2013. Annadif said the latest attack brings to 102 the number of peacekeepers killed in hostile acts.
The attack in Gao came a day after two UN peacekeepers from Chad were killed and 10 more wounded during a mortar attack on their camp in Aguelhok, northeastern Mali.
In late February, four U.N. peacekeepers were killed when a mine exploded under their vehicle in Mopti in central Mali, while six Malian soldiers were killed a week earlier in another mine attack.
The United Nations Security Council is to hold a session on Wednesday to discuss violence in Mali and the wider Sahel region.
The Minusma peacekeeping force currently includes 11,350 military and 1,740 police personnel from 57 U.N. partner nations. It is backed by a further 4,000 troops in the France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terror mission that operates across the Sahel region of west Africa. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger established the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops to work alongside the other missions.
Five French soldiers were wounded in an attack on a joint U.N.-France base in Kidal on March 22, a day before Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga made a landmark visit to the town, the first since 2014 by a head of government to an area still in the hands of former rebels.
On Sunday, 30 militants were killed in a clash with French and Malian troops near Mali’s border with Niger, the French military said.
Once a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali has been undermined by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
France launched an intervention to chase out extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took control of a significant area of northern Mali in 2013. The militants were largely driven out and that mission evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment.
In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but the jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country are lawless.
14 suspects killed in Mali escape attempt, army says
Meanwhile, 14 suspected jihadists were killed on Friday during an “alleged escape attempt”, a day after they were taken in for questioning, the Malian army said in a statement.
However, two local officials told AFP that 20 civilians had been killed or arrested in Dioura, central Mali, and cast doubt on the prison escape story.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International called on authorities in Mali to investigate extrajudicial killings following the discovery last week of a mass grave containing six bodies.
With reporting from AFP