воскресенье, 5 октября 2014 г.

Nine UN peacekeepers from Niger killed in ambush by rebels in Mali

Fears for future of UN mission to support Bamako government against Islamists insurgency after pullout by French troops

Nine United Nations peacekeepers in Mali were killed when heavily armed gunmen on motorbikes ambushed their convoy on Friday, the deadliest attack yet on UN troops in Mali, the mission said.

The attack on the peacekeepers from Niger took place in the Gao region and highlighted a sharp increase in strikes on foreign troops, who were sent to Mali to prevent the return of al-Qaida-linked Islamists who seized the desert in northern Mali in 2012.

“I am horrified by this cowardly act of terrorism ... Once again, lives have been lost today in the name of peace in Mali,” Arnauld Akodjenou, deputy head of the UN mission known as Minusma, said.

A UN spokesman, Olivier Salgado, said the attack took place between the north-eastern towns of Menaka and Ansongo. There were no reports of further UN troops being injured.

The U.N. UN mission said aircraft had been dispatched to secure the zone, which is near Mali’s border with Niger.

A security source said the peacekeepers were attacked in a dip in the road as it crossed a dry river bed.

UN peacekeepers have been deployed across Mali’s north in an effort to secure the country after the separatists and Islamists took advantage of the power vacuum created by a coup in the capital in 2012 to seize the northern regions.

The Islamists were scattered by French forces early last year, elections have been held and rebels who distanced themselves from extremist groups have begun talks with the Bamako government. But the peace process is moving slowly and Malian government troops abandoned most positions in the north earlier this year after clashes with rebels.

Since then, Mali has called on the UN mission to deploy more of its mandated force of 12,000 men in the north, which is awash with smugglers as well as various rebels.

However, diplomats say there is increasing concern that UN peacekeepers who are not trained or equipped for counter-insurgency warfare are overexposed.

Ten Chadian peacekeepers were killed in Mali last month, prompting accusations from Chad that its troops were being neglected by the UN mission.

The spike in attacks on troops comes as France has redeployed some of its forces away from Mali as part of a plan to have 3,000 soldiers fighting extremists across the Sahara-Sahel band.

“There is lot of concern at the moment,” said one Bamako-based diplomat. “There have been concerns since the early French drawdowns [of troops]. But the bad guys seem to have access to much more expertise and kit now too.”

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