Islamist attacks surge in Mali: UN

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Attacks by militant Islamists against UN peacekeepers, Malian troops and French forces in Mali have surged over the past four months, with local forces suffering heavy casualties, a UN report said Tuesday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported an increase of more than 100 percent in attacks since June, and declared that the security situation had "significantly worsened" in the West African country.

The Security Council is due to discuss the crisis in Mali on Thursday.

In all, extremist groups carried out 75 attacks: 44 against Malian forces, 21 against the UN's MINUSMA operation and 10 against the French Barkhane mission, mostly in the north of the country.

"These figures represent an increase of 102.7 percent for all attacks," compared to the previous four months, said the report to the council.

During that period, six peacekeepers, one civilian and eight UN contractors were killed and 34 other UN personnel were injured in MINUSMA, which has earned the title of the UN's deadliest mission.

The heaviest toll, however, was suffered by Malian forces, with 39 members killed and 44 wounded. No French soldiers were killed since June but 17 were injured, compared with two in the previous four months.

- Expensive UN mission -

The United Nations has 13,000 peacekeepers in Mali, which ranks among its biggest and costliest missions, while France has 4,000 troops serving across the Sahel region with a counterterror mandate.

Most of the attacks were claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, a coalition of three prominent Islamist groups with ties to Al-Qaeda, the report said.

Militant groups affiliated with Mali-based fighters remain active in border areas with Burkina Faso and Niger, according to the report.

In 2012, Mali's north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda who exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, leading to a French-led military intervention and the UN deployment a year later.

Guterres said he was disappointed by the lack of progress in implementing a 2015 peace deal and the resumption of fighting between armed groups in northern Mali that signed the deal.

The UN chief appealed for financial and logistical support for a new regional force set up to fight jihadists in the Sahel, saying the success of the new mission could help the peace process.

France is pushing for UN funding for the new force of up to 5,000 men that is expected to begin operations later this month.

With presidential elections planned for next year, Mali's peace process must be salvaged to prevent "a descent into a vicious cycle of violence and chaos, jeopardizing the future of Mali and its chances for lasting peace," warned Guterres.

© 2017 AFP

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