Senegalese peacekeeper killed in rocket attack on northern Mali base

U.N. head of peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous speaks at a news conference in Bamako October 7, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Penney (Reuters)

BAMAKO (Reuters) - A Senegalese United Nations peacekeeper was killed on Tuesday when a joint French-U.N. military camp in the northern Malian town of Kidal was hit by rocket fire, the U.N. mission and Senegal's state television said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, but Islamist insurgents operating in Mali's north have stepped up attacks on foreign forces in recent weeks. Nine U.N. peacekeepers were killed in an ambush last Friday. Olivier Salgado, a spokesman for the U.N. force, known as MINUSMA, said between six and eight rockets had been fired at the camp. "One MINUSMA soldier was killed in the attack," Salgado said, without giving details on the nationality of the peacekeeper. There were no immediate reports of casualties among the French forces from the rocket fire. Senegal's state television, citing a statement from the country's army, said the peacekeeper who was killed in the attack was a member of Senegal's 845-strong contingent deployed in Mali as part of the UN's peacekeeping mission. U.N. peacekeepers have deployed across Mali's north in an effort to secure the country after the separatists and Islamist rebels seized the northern regions, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by a coup in the capital in 2012. The Islamists were scattered by French forces early last year and elections have since been held. But there has been a marked increase in attacks in recent months as France moved its focus away from Mali towards a regional security mission. Mali's army was also forced to pull troops from the Kidal region in May after losing a battle following a botched attempt to seize the town from Tuareg separatists. Since then, only UN peacekeepers and a handful of French personnel have been based there. Speaking in Mali's capital Bamako earlier on Tuesday, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the reduction of French troops and the absence of Malian troops from the region was contributing to the upsurge of insurgent activities. Instability in southern Libya is also "a factor that plays a role in the fact that these jihadists...have restarted their activities. They have without doubt re-acquired equipment," Ladsous said. (Reporting by Adama Diarra and Joe Penney in Bamako; additional reporting by Bate Felix, David Lewis and Diadie in Dakar; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Dominic Evans and Ken Wills)