Four Malian soldiers have died in a landmine explosion and a gun attack in Mali's north. The region fell into the hands of militias linked to al-Qaeda in 2012.
"A Malian soldier was shot dead in an ambush Thursday morning on the outskirts of Timbuktu," a military officer told journalists in the northwestern desert city on Thursday. The soldier was driving a military vehicle when he was attacked. "The shooter is on the run, he added.
Elsewhere, at least three other soldiers died when their vehicle hit a landmine near the city of Gao, army spokesman Souleymane Maiga said. "The [vehicle at the] head of our convoy hit a mine 37 kilometers (23 miles) southwest of Gao, near Douetntza. We deplore the death of three of our own," he added. Two other soldiers were reported to be in "critical condition."
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Northern Mali has been under the control of Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-linked groups since 2012. The Islamists were largely wiped out by a French military operation in the area and a peace deal signed between the government and the rebels in June 2015. However, vast areas still experience conflict.
Earlier this month, the German parliament approved sending 650 soldiers to support the UN's peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, in Mali. Currently, only ten soldiers of the German army - the Bundeswehr - are stationed in the country's capital, Bamako. The new deployment will be sent to Gao in the north, where Dutch soldiers of the MINUSMA are stationed.
The German soldiers will assess the situation in the region through patrols and drones and monitor the progress of the June peace deal. The Bundeswehr troops will not be involved in direct attacks against rebels and Islamists. However, Germany's parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartels described the mission as the "most dangerous UN mission" for the soldiers and as dangerous as the combat mission in Afghanistan.
mg/jr (AP, AFP)