Fourth Ivorian UN peacekeeper dies in Mali attack
The death toll from an attack on UN peacekeepers in Mali has risen to four after another soldier died from his wounds, the United Nations said Thursday.
A detachment of Ivorian peacekeepers was travelling between Douentza and Timbuktu in the northwest on Wednesday when it hit one or more roadside bombs before coming under fire, the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping mission said.
Three were killed in the attack, and "a fourth Blue Helmet has sadly died of his wounds," MINUSMA spokesman Olivier Salgado said on social media.
Several other peacekeepers were injured.
The attack occurred north of Bambara Maoude, an area where the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM, also known by its Arabic acronym JNIM), a jihadist group created in 2017 and affiliated to Al-Qaeda, is notoriously active.
Ivory Coast's armed forces chief Lassina Doumbia said attack helicopters were brought in to sweep the area and medical aircraft to evacuate the wounded.
The attack is the latest in a brutal conflict that has been raging in Mali since 2012, when jihadists overtook a rebellion by mostly ethnic Tuareg separatists in the north.
Thousands of Malian soldiers and civilians have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
After spreading to central Mali, the campaign advanced into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.
Laying roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), is a favourite tactic in the conflict.
France, which has 5,100 troops deployed across the Sahel, has lost five soldiers since late December in IED attacks claimed by the GSIM.
First established in 2013, the 13,000-strong MINUSMA has suffered the highest fatalities of any peacekeeping mission in the world.
More than 260 of its personnel have died since the mission began, and according to spokesman Salgado, 145 of them in hostile acts.
An Ivorian military official, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the slain peacekeepers were from a battalion of about 650 Ivorian troops in Mali.
The attack marks the first time that Ivorians on a UN peacekeeping mission have died in combat anywhere in the world, the official added.
'Axis of death'
At a press conference in Mali's capital Bamako on Thursday, MINUSMA head Mahamat Saleh Annadif that IEDs had always "done us harm," pointing to 59 deaths caused the bombs.
He added that UN and foreign troops are especially prone to IEDs where Wednesday's attack occurred -- an area which he termed "the axis of death".
Annadif played down the idea that attacks surged after the government freed about 200 jihadists as part of an October prisoner exchange, noting that militants have long targeted peacekeepers and other troops.
He also told reporters he was cautious about interpreting the attack as a tactic to exert political pressure on the government in Bamako.
Mali's interim government is under pressure to wind down the conflict.
Anger about lack of progress against the jihadists contributed to protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, which culminated in his military ouster in a coup in August.
But, despite the regime change, the conflict appears to have remained just as violent.
The UN Security Council held a meeting on Tuesday that was devoted to Mali's long-running crisis.
In his latest report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the deteriorating security environment, pointing to the situation in central Mali as particularly worrying.