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French soldier killed in Mali by roadside bomb in attack claimed by IS group

Daphné Benoit, AFP | A French armoured vehicle drives by helicopters on March 27, 2019, during the start of the French Barkhane Force operation in Mali's Gourma region.

A French soldier was killed in Mali’s eastern border region, France's presidency said in a statement Saturday, a day after 49 Malian soldiers were massacred in the same area. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

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Corporal Ronan Pointeau died near Menaka in eastern Mali following "the detonation of an improvised explosive device as his armoured vehicle drove by", the statement said.

President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Pointeau's "sacrifice" and said his thoughts were with the soldier's colleagues and "his Sahelian brothers in arms, who are paying a heavy price in the fight against terrorism".

The Sahel region is the scene of repeated clashes between jihadists and local forces backed by troops from Western countries.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack late on Saturday. IS group fighters "detonated an explosive device on a French army convoy in the Indelimane area", it said on its Telegram channel.

The group also claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack on a Malian army base in the same region that killed 49 troops. "Soldiers of the caliphate attacked a military base where elements of the apostate Malian army were stationed in the village of Indelimane," said the IS group statement. The Malian government initially said more than 50 soldiers were killed in what it called a "terrorist attack".

On Sunday, two Malian soldiers were killed and another six injured when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, the army said.

"A vehicle of the Malian armed forces hit an improvised explosive device" near the central town of Bandiagara, the military said in a tweet.

Regional, French, UN troops in increasingly violent region

The attacks have underscored the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel despite the presence of French troops and Macron’s continued support for counterinsurgency operations in the scrubland region between the Sahara and the African savanna.

Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso are part of the G5 Sahel security alliance that has struggled to contain the violence in the impoverished border region. The much-trumpeted initiative has a joint 5,000-man anti-terror force, helped by former colonial ruler France.

In addition to French troops, the UN has around 15,000 troops, including under MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Saturday said she would be "visiting Mali very soon to hold discussions with Malian authorities".

'We can resist'

The attacks in Mali came a month after two jihadist assaults killed 40 soldiers near the border with Burkina Faso.

"This bloodshed that Mali has been living through cannot go on," imam Mahamoud Dicko, an influential religious leader in Mali, told AFP. "Do you want us to resign ourselves to this suffering? We can resist," he added.

Rights activist Alioune Tine, from Mali's western neighbour Senegal, called for action across Africa to tackle the threat.

"If Africa does not mobilise for Mali and Burkina (Faso), it won't be spared the bushfire that is quickly catching West Africa's coastal countries, the next chosen targets" of the jihadists, he said.

The violence has also spilled into Burkina Faso and Niger where jihadists have exploited existing inter-communal strife and clashes between pastoralists and sedentary farmers, leaving hundreds dead.

In Mali, the attacks have spread from the arid north to its centre, an ethnically mixed and explosive region.

Northern Mali came under the control of al Qaeda-linked jihadists after Mali's army failed to quash a rebellion there in 2012.

A French-led military campaign was launched against the jihadists, pushing them back a year later.

But the jihadists have regrouped and widened their hit-and-run raids and landmine attacks to central and southern Mali.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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