Three UN peacekeepers from Ivory Coast were killed in central Mali on Wednesday, the UN and Ivorian government said, in the latest violence to hit the war-torn Sahel state.
Peacekeepers travelling the road linking the central town of Douentza to the city of Timbuktu further north hit a roadside bomb, according to a statement from the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission.
Gunmen then opened fire on the convoy, the statement added, confirming three dead.
“The robust response of the peacekeepers drove the cowardly assailants to flee,” the MINUSMA statement said.
Ivory Coast’s armed forces chief of staff Lassina Doumbia, confirmed the attack in a statement but revised down the number of wounded from the six reported earlier to four.
“Aerial reinforcements consisting of attack helicopters and medical aircraft were immediately deployed” to sweep the area and to evacuate the wounded, he said.
A statement from a UN spokesman in New York earlier on Wednesday said that one peacekeeper was killed and seven 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.
The conflict, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians to date, has since spread to central Mali as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.
Laying roadside bombs — or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — is a favourite tactic among militants in the arid Sahel region.
France — which has 5,100 troops deployed across the Sahel — has lost five soldiers to IED attacks since late December.
First established in 2013, the 13,000-strong MINUSMA is the deadliest peacekeeping mission in the world. Over 230 of its personnel have died since the mission began.
MINUSMA head Mahamat Saleh Annadif condemned Wednesday’s attack, adding in the statement.
“At a time when all efforts are being mobilised to get Mali out of its rut, I deeply deplore the resurgence of these attacks against national and international forces, as well as the civilian population,” he added.
The attack on UN peacekeepers occurred a day after a UN Security Council Meeting devoted to peace efforts in Mali.
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.
Mali’s interim government is also under pressure to quell the seemingly endless conflict.
Anger about lack of progress against the jihadists and perceived corruption contributed to protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, which culminated in his military ouster last August.