Malian troops kill jihadists on I. Coast border: Mali army

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Malian troops, pictured in a file photo, killed several jihadists near the country's southern border with Ivory Coast and destroyed the insurgents' camp in a forest straddling the frontier, several Malian military officials said

Malian troops, pictured in a file photo, killed several jihadists near the country's southern border with Ivory Coast and destroyed the insurgents' camp in a forest straddling the frontier, several Malian military officials said (AFP Photo/Frederic Lafargue)

Bamako (AFP) - Malian troops killed several jihadists near the country's southern border with Ivory Coast and destroyed the insurgents' camp in a forest straddling the frontier, several Malian military officials said.

The deputy chief of staff of the Malian army, General Didier Dakouo, told state television channel ORTM that troops had carried out an offensive in the Sikasso region "to combat terrorism".

"We conducted two offensives in the terrorists' sanctuary," he said late on Thursday night.

"We managed to get hold of a number of materials, including motorcycles, weapons and other explosives. Some terrorists were neutralised," he added.

Since last week, Malian army parachutists known as the Red Berets and regular troops stationed in the frontier region of Sikasso have been conducting operations against the insurgents, a Malian army officer told AFP earlier.

"We have just destroyed the main military camp of the jihadists in the south, in the Sama forest, located on the Ivorian border," the officer told AFP by telephone, requesting anonymity.

Another Malian security source said the jihadists were members of the Islamist Ansar Dine group, which seeks to impose Sharia law in areas under its control while opposing Western education models and vaccination campaigns.

A humanitarian source said two Malian soldiers were injured in the operation.

Malian troops on Thursday also pressed on with anti-insurgent operations in the frontier town of Fakola, which was pillaged on June 28 in an attack claimed by Ansar Dine.

Residents of the Ivorian town of Debete, located 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Fakola, confirmed that an operation was underway in the forest and several arrests had been made.

"There were battles in Sama forest," said a resident of Pogo, located on Ivory Coast's border with Mali.

Jihadist attacks are normally confined to Mali's restive northern desert region but areas bordering Mauritania have been targeted since the start of the year, and southern settlements more recently.

On Monday, some 20 suspected jihadists travelling from Ivory Coast were stopped in Zegoua, in the Sikasso region, and are now being questioned, according to Malian security sources.

Among them were two French nationals, three Franco-Malian dual nationals and two Malians, with the rest hailing from Mauritania. All are thought to be members of a Pakistan-affiliated Islamist sect called Tabligh.

The north came under the control of Ansar Dine -- which is Arabic for Defenders of Faith -- and two other jihadist groups, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, in April 2012.

A move south towards the capital by the extremists, who imposed a brutal version of sharia on inhabitants, prompted Mali's former colonial master France to intervene in January 2013, pounding their positions in the north.

Their organisational structure smashed, small pockets of armed Islamists managed to remain active, and continue to carry out occasional deadly attacks in the desert.