A French soldier was killed in a suicide attack in northern Mali while on a monitoring mission in the al Moustarat region north of Gao, the French defence ministry said on Tuesday.
The Foreign Legion soldier died from wounds sustained in a suicide attack about 100 km (60 miles) north of the city of Gao on Monday, the defence ministry said.
He was part of a monitoring mission operating in the al Moustarat region, said Colonel Gilles Jaron, an army spokesman.
"A speeding vehicle approached. We opened fire, stopping the vehicle 10 metres from where we were. But the terrorist activated his explosive charge," he said.
Seven French soldiers were also wounded in the blast, three of them seriously, Jaron said.
"The president of the republic was profoundly saddened by the news of his death," said a statement from the Elysée presidential palace.
The statement from President François Hollande reiterated that the French soldiers working alongside the Malian army and UN forces had succeeded "with courage and efficiency" in their mission to ensure Mali's sovereignty in the face of the threat from "terrorists".
Hollande went on to address his condolences to the soldier's family and friends, saying the country stood united with them at this painful time.
The latest casualty brings to nine the number of French troops killed since France launched Operation Serval in January 2013 to oust the alliance of Islamist and Tuareg militants that had seized control of around half of Mali’s territory.
The Islamists later routed the Tuaregs and began an advance on the capital Bamako that prompted France's military intervention.
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France said last week that the military offensive that helped free northern Mali from the Islamists would be replaced by an operation spanning the wider, largely lawless Sahel region.
"The president wanted a reorganisation of our troops in the [Sahel] zone," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday in a television interview.
The new operation, codenamed Barkhan, will kick off in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries in the Sahel-Sahara region, Le Drian said, without naming which nations would be involved.
He added that the operation would consist of around 3,000 French soldiers supported by drones, helicopters and fighter jets.
"The aim is to prevent what I call 'the highway of all forms of traffick' to become a place of permanent passage where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security," Le Drian said.
"It's our security that is at stake," he said.
Le Drian said in May that the new "counter-terrorism" mission would operate in northern Mali, the north of Niger and in Chad.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-07-15