Mali's UN troops killed in 'deadliest attack'

A UN soldier in Mali pictured in July 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 9,000 UN troops are currently deployed in Mali

Nine UN peacekeepers from Niger have been killed when their convoy was ambushed in north-east Mali.

The UN said it was the deadliest attack on its mission in Mali.

French and African troops intervened in Mali in January 2013 to stop the southern advance of Islamist militants on the capital, Bamako.

The insurgents were expelled from the northern towns they controlled but attacks have continued against the UN force deployed to help bring stability.

The 9,000-strong UN force, known as Minusma, took over peacekeeping operations in July 2013.

Rocket launchers

The UN logistics convoy - which included two pick-up trucks and a fuel truck - came under attack from heavily armed gunmen on motorbikes between the north-eastern desert towns of Menaka and Ansongo in the Gao region, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The assailants were carrying rocket launchers.

"They were targeting a convoy that included a fuel truck, knowing full well [it] would cause an even greater number of casualties, which adds to the horrendous nature of the crime," Mr Dujarric said.

Minusma has not said who was responsible, but there were 30 survivors and one of them from Niger told the AFP news agency that it was carried out by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militia.

The BBC's Alex Duval Smith in the capital, Bamako, says this would make sense as the Gao region has been the group's stronghold.

Since the end of June, 22 Minusma soldiers have died, mainly in remote-controlled landmine blasts in the far north of the country, our reporter says.

Several days ago French special forces announced that they had captured four people in Gao, dismantling a terror cell.

But Friday's attack adds to the impression that the armed groups are getting stronger, our reporter says.

Mali descended into conflict after a coup in 2012 prompted by concerns over how to deal with a Tuareg rebellion in the country's vast northern desert region.

Al-Qaeda with its Islamist allies took advantage of the subsequent chaos to seize the north, sidelining the Tuaregs.

Since the UN troops deployed, presidential polls have been held and the Tuareg community is now among several groups attending on-off peace talks in Algeria to settle issues of how the north should be governed.

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