UN peacekeeper killed in Mali blast

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iol news pic jan21 Mali Fighting~1 Associated Press Unidentified gunmen clashed with Malian security forces in the northern region of Timbuktu, killing at least three soldiers, officials said. File picture: Jerome Delay

Bamako - At least one United Nations peacekeeper was killed and six others injured in Mali on Monday when their vehicle struck a land mine in the north of the country, a UN spokesman said.

Three of the peacekeepers, all from Burkina Faso, were seriously hurt in the blast, the latest in a serious of incidents underscoring insecurity in northern Mali despite the French and UN troops who deployed to drive out al-Qaeda-linked Islamists last year.

“A vehicle from the Burkinabe contingent hit a mine, injuring seven soldiers, four of them seriously,” Olivier Salgado told Reuters. “One of the four subsequently died.”

Salgado said the explosion took place outside the town of Goundam in Timbuktu region.

The explosion comes as Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, a key figure in regional politics, visited Mali on Monday in a bid to revive dialogue with rebels still occupying positions in Mali's desert north.

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups took advantage of an uprising by Tuareg separatist rebel fighters and a military coup in the capital to seize Mali's vast desert north in 2012.

France dispatched thousands of troops last year to drive the Islamists out of the zone and a UN peacekeeping mission is rolling out to try to stabilise the fragile northern regions.

But pockets of Islamists that remain have launched a series of bomb attacks on Malian and UN troops this year.

Mali's government and rebel groups not officially linked to the Islamist militants are due to complete peace talks. However, Mali's army lost 50 soldiers in a failed bid last month to dislodge Tuareg separatists still occupying the town of Kidal.

Mali's foreign minister last week called on the United Nations to speed up deploying the remainder of its promised 12 000-member peacekeeping force and station more troops in the north. - Reuters

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