A Nigerian peacekeeper was killed and another injured in an attack in Timbuktu and three Chadian peacekeepers were injured in a roadside bomb attack in Tessalit, the U.N. said on Saturday, May 19.
The Nigerian peacekeeper “succumbed to his wounds following the armed attack by unidentified assailants” in Timbuktu in central Mali, a statement said. A second peacekeeper who was wounded in the gun attack is in intensive care, Studio Tamani reported.
Separately, three Chadian peacekeepers were injured when their mine-protected vehicle “hit an improvised explosive device” in Tessalit, which is around 480 km (250 miles) north of Gao, in the Kidal region of Mali’s desert north.
The statement noted that attacks against peacekeepers can constitute war crimes under international law.
The MINUSMA stabilization mission in Mali which began in 2013 is considered one the most dangerous U.N. peacekeeping missions, and attacks against blue helmets in the center and north of the country are common. Saturday’s incident brings to 18 the number of peacekeepers that have died this year alone.
The recent unrest in the Sahel region began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
Large swathes of Mali remain outside government control, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of the country and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A peace deal was signed in 2015 between the government and some armed groups designed to isolate the militant Islamists, but the jihadist insurgency has shown no signs of weakening.
The French mission in Mali evolved in August 2014 into the current Operation Barkhane, which has 4,500 personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel region, with 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel as well as MINUSMA, which in March had 12,644 military and 1,734 police personnel, 454 staff officers and 39 experts deployed from more than 50 U.N. partner nations.