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MALI

French legionnaire killed in Mali suicide attack

A French legionnaire has been killed in a suicide attack in northern Mali, taking to nine the number of soldiers to have died in the west African country since 2013, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

French legionnaire killed in Mali suicide attack
A French legionnaire has been killed in Mali by a suicide bomber, the government announced on Teusday. Photo: AFP

Serbian-born Dejvid Nikolic, 45, who held French nationality, "fell victim to a suicide attack" about 100 kilometres north of the northern town of Gao in Mali's restive north on Monday, the defence ministry said in a statement.

A suicide bomber in a car targeted French troops who were on a security mission in the Al Moustarat region north of Gao, it said.

Seven soldiers were injured and Nikolic died of his wounds on Monday evening, the statement added.

France kicked off the so-called Serval offensive in January last year to help Malian soldiers stop Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from advancing on the capital Bamako from the north of its former colony.

France – which currently has 1,700 soldiers in Mali – had initially planned to end Serval in May and redeploy troops to the Sahel region, but fresh clashes between rebels and the army in the flashpoint northern town of Kidal forced Paris to delay the pullout, which it officially announced on Sunday.

French President Francois Hollande is due to travel to west Africa on Thursday, visiting Ivory Coast, Niger and Chad ahead of the new military mission.

Codenamed Barkhane, it is due to be headquartered in the Chadian capital N'Djamena and is being implemented in partnership with Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

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TERRORISM

‘Terrorists’ attack French soldiers in troubled Mali

French soldiers operating in troubled northern Mali were targeted by "terrorists" in an ambush on Sunday, the third attack in the country in just days.

'Terrorists' attack French soldiers in troubled Mali
Smoke and flames ascend from an army armoured vehicle in Gao, northwestern Mali, following an explosion on Sunday. Photo: STRINGER / AFP
The ambush underscores the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to go to the polls on July 29th.
 
A spokesman for the French military said there were no deaths among the French troops but it was not known if there were other casualties in the attack, which took place in the restive Gao region.
 
“French soldiers of the Barkhane military operation were ambushed by terrorists” near the town of Bourem, a Western military source told AFP, referring to the French mission in the country. 
 
A Malian military source confirmed the incident, which came two days after a deadly attack on the Mali headquarters of a five-nation regional force known as G5 Sahel.
 
Fatouma Wangara, a resident of Gao, said the French convoy was clearly targeted by a suicide car bomb.
 
“An armoured vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up,” she said.
 
Another resident told AFP that the area around the ambush had been sealed off by French soldiers.
 
The attack came as over 40 African heads of state are meeting for an African Union summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott with security high on the agenda.
 
'Hit the heart' of regional security
 
On Friday, a suicide attack on the headquarters of the regional Sahel force known as G5 killed two soldiers and a civilian in the Malian town of Savare. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday's bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar. And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.
 
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day AU summit, warned earlier that security failings were hampering the work of the Sahel force. He said Friday's attack “hit the heart” of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help.
 
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — but has faced funding problems. It operates alongside France's 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
 
Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north. The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.  But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.
 
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.