Several killed as gunmen storm Mali army base
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Suspected jihadists killed 21 Malian soldiers in a raid on an army camp in central Mali on Sunday, military sources said, after a dawn attack that the armed forces believe was led by a deserter.
Driving cars and motorbikes, the attackers stormed Dioura army camp in Mali's central the Mopti region, in the latest assault on the military as the country grapples with the spread of jihadist groups and instability.
"The provisional toll is 21 bodies discovered," said a military source, in figures also confirmed by a local legislator.
The attack was carried out "by terrorist groups under the command of Ba Ag Moussa, a deserter army colonel", according to the Malian armed forces.
A second military source said there was "a lot of damage".
"Our men responded. I saw at least four bodies on the ground," he said.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on Twitter, said the Malian people were "united against terrible acts", without giving any death toll.
" Toutes nos pensées pour les fiers soldats de l’Armée Malienne tombés ce jour à Dioura dans l’accomplissement de leur mission de sécurisation des biens et des personnes face à un ennemi lâche. Le Mali et son Peuple sont unis et déterminés contre ces actes ignominieux" – IBKPresidence Mali (@PresidenceMali) March 17, 2019
Violence explodes despite international troops
Once a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali in recent years has been dogged by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
A French-led intervention pushed them back the following year, but the violence has since steadily increased despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, a strong French military contingent and the creation of a five-nation military force in the region.
"Despite significant international efforts, the security situation has continued to deteriorate with an increase in the number of terrorist attacks," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a report sent to the Security Council this month.
In 2018, there were 237 terror attacks, up from 226 in 2017 and 183 the previous year, said the report.
Peace deal brings no peace
In June 2015, Mali's government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but the jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless.
Groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group are increasingly using central and northern Mali as a launchpad for growing numbers of attacks across the Sahel region, especially on neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, despite the presence of 4,500 French troops.
Central Mali is the locus of the Macina Liberation Front, led by Salafist preacher and militant leader Amadou Koufa. French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in November that Koufa had been killed in a raid by French forces.
But at the end of last month, Koufa appeared in a new propaganda video mocking French and Malian forces.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)