UN peacekeeper death toll rises to 7 in Mali

UN soldiers patrol in the northern Malian city of Kidal on July 27, 2013 (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard) (AFP/File)

Bamako (AFP) - The number of UN peacekeepers killed in an Islamist attack on their base in Mali has risen to seven following the death of a female force member evacuated to Senegal, the regional deployment said Tuesday.

Six peacekeepers were initially killed and at least 30 wounded in the early morning assault on the camp belonging to the UN force, known by the acronym MINUSMA, on Friday in the northeastern town of Kidal.

"We have unfortunately lost a seventh member. It was a woman who was injured and evacuated to Dakar," a MINUSMA source told AFP, referring to the Senegalese capital.

All seven killed were Guinean, three of them women, the source confirmed, representing the first female members of the mission killed in Mali.

Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine, responsible for several previous assaults, claimed the attack, which has highlighted the vulnerability of Mali's sprawling, arid north.

UN troops and Malian soldiers are struggling in their fight against jihadists who seized vast swathes of territory in 2012. Three Malian soldiers also died in a separate ambush on Friday.

The bodies of the six UN peacekeepers still in Mali will be returned to Guinea on Wednesday, accompanied by their mission chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif, a Guinean diplomat told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"Guinea is touched by the gesture," the diplomat said.

Annadif visited the devastated camp on Saturday, after suicide bombers drove a vehicle into the base between two rocket launches, then blew it up.

The MINUSMA mission, launched in July 2013, has been the most deadly for the UN since a deployment to Somalia during the civil war between 1993 and 1995.

Mali's north continues to be beset by violence having fallen under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.

The Islamists sidelined the Tuareg to take sole control, and although they were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013, extremist groups still pose a threat.