Gunmen attacked two United Nations bases in Mali on Monday, killing a peacekeeper, a contractor and seven Malians, the UN said, in the latest attacks on its presence in the country.
The peacekeeper and a Malian soldier were killed in an attack in the early morning in Douentza, in the central region of Mopti, according to a statement from the UN mission in the country, known by the acronym MINUSMA.
Hours later, six men toting guns and grenades drove up to the entrance of the UN mission’s camp in Timbuktu in northwestern Mali, the UN announced in a separate statement.
They opened fire on Malian UN security guards, killing five of them, as well as a policeman and a civilian contractor whose nationality was not specified, the UN said in a separate statement.
A UN source told AFP six guards had been killed, but the statement said one was wounded but had not died.
Two suspected jihadists were killed in the Douentza attack and six in Timbuktu.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence in a statement, stressing that attacks targeting UN peacekeepers “may constitute war crimes under international law”.
The assault underlines the scale of the UN’s struggles to contain a death toll among its peacekeepers that has already earned its Mali mission the unwelcome title of the world’s deadliest active UN deployment.
Another peacekeeper was lightly wounded in Douentza and six others, as well as a Malian security guard, suffered injuries in Timbuktu, according to the UN statements.
“I don’t have enough words to condemn this cowardly and ignoble act a few hours after the terrorist attack we endured in Douentza,” said UN Special Representative for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Saleh Annadif, in a statement.
“We must combine all our efforts in order to identify and apprehend those responsible for these terrorist acts so that they can answer to their crimes in court,” Annadif added.
A Malian security source meanwhile told AFP that the Timbuktu security guards were “killed on the spot,” though the attack soon attracted the attention of Malian forces and French helicopters stationed in the area, who fired on the attackers.
On Monday night, reinforcements were deployed to both bases and in the city of Timbuktu itself.
– Constantly targeted –
Active in Mali since 2013, the UN mission, known as MINUSMA, is constantly targeted by jihadists that roam northern and central Mali, and has also been beset by operational difficulties including a lack of helicopters and allegations of abuse lodged by the population.
Last week, UN peacekeepers accused former rebel fighters and a rival pro-government militia in the north of the country of having used child soldiers in recent clashes.
In 2012, key cities in northern Mali fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, who exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, leading to a French-led military intervention and the eventual deployment of MINUSMA.
Although the Islamists were largely ousted, attacks have continued on UN and French forces, civilians and the Malian army.
Monday’s attacks in Mali came hours after an assault in Ouagadougou, the capital of the neighbouring Sahel state of Burkina Faso, where 18 people were gunned down at a restaurant popular with foreigners.
France is pushing for five countries in the western-central Sahara region to form a joint “G5” force to combat jihadism.
It would comprise 5,000 men drawn from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
But the plan has met with worries over funding, with an estimated 400 million euros ($471 million) required to make it operational.