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Mali blast death toll rises to over 70

AFP
19 January 2017 | Mali
The dead and injured are evacuated following a suicide bomb attack that ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in Gao, in northern Mali.  By STRINGER (AFP)
The dead and injured are evacuated following a suicide bomb attack that ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in Gao, in northern Mali. By STRINGER (AFP)

Bamako (AFP) - More than 70 people died in a suicide bomb attack in Mali targeting militia groups committed to restoring peace in the African country, according to an updated toll Thursday.

The update came as Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta travelled to Gao in the troubled north to visit injured survivors and relatives of the dead, the head of state's office announced on Twitter.

"There are more than 70 victims," a medical source in Gao told AFP.

The death toll could rise further given the large number of injured, the source said. The wounded have been evacuated to Bamako.

A previous toll from Wednesday's attack had put the number of dead at 60 with 115 injured.

The assault targeted a camp housing former rebels and pro-government militia who are signatories to a 2015 peace accord struck with the government.

President Keita has ordered three days of national mourning.

The attack, Mali's worst in years, was claimed by the group of Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

It occurred as former rebels from the Tuareg-led CMA movement prepared to go on a joint patrol with pro-government militia members under the terms of the peace deal.

Mali's north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012. The Islamists sidelined the rebels to take sole control.

Although they were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013, implementation of the peace accord has been piecemeal with insurgents still active across large parts of the region.

The joint patrols, which also include regular Malian army troops, are supposed to help prepare for the reorganisation of the army.

In Paris, meanwhile, the French military on Thursday said armed groups in Mali launched 118 attacks against the army, UN peacekeepers and French troops last year.

Fifteen Malian soldiers, 24 members of the MINUSMA UN peacekeeping force and four French soldiers lost their lives, French army spokesman Patrik Steiger told a weekly press briefing in Paris.

The attacks "were generally from explosive devices, suicide bombings, mines, rocket and mortar fire and the aim was to kill while generating the maximum amount of publicity possible," Steiger said.

The United Nations has deployed 13,000 troops in Mali while France, the former colonial power, has an additional 4,000 soldiers stationed there.

The UN Security Council agreed Wednesday to consider setting up a sanctions regime for Mali to punish those who are hindering efforts to implement a 2015 peace accord.

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