UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Attackers killed one U.N. peacekeeper and seriously injured eight others Friday in Mali’s northern Timbuktu region, an area where extremists continue to operate, the United Nations said.
The peacekeepers, all from Burkina Faso, were part of a security patrol that was targeted first by an improvised explosive device and then by direct small arms fire seven kilometers (four miles) from their base in the town of Ber, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The U.N. Security Council, Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, strongly condemned the attack.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Mali's transitional authorities to identify the perpetrators of the attack and bring them to justice swiftly, noting that “attacks targeting U.N. peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law,” Dujarric said.
The Security Council also called for a swift investigation and accountability, and underlined that attacking peacekeepers may not only be a war crime but that involvement in planning, directing, sponsoring or conducting such an attack can lead to sanctions.
Mali has been ruled by a military junta since a 2020 coup against an elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. It has faced destabilizing attacks by armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group since 2013.
In 2021, France and its European partners engaged in the fight against extremists in Mali’s north withdrew from the country after the junta brought in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group.
The Security Council expressed concern about Mali’s security situation “and the transnational dimension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region.” It urged the Malian parties to fully implement a 2015 peace agreement.
The United States warned Mali’s military government in April that it would be “irresponsible” for the United Nations to continue deploying its more than 15,000 peacekeepers unless the western African nation ends restrictions, including on operating reconnaissance drones, and carries out political commitments toward peace and elections in March 2024.
The warning came as the U.N. Security Council considers three options proposed by Secretary-General António Guterres for the peacekeeping mission’s future: increase its size, reduce its footprint, or withdraw troops and police and turn it into a political mission. Its current mandate expires on June 30.
Dujarric said the peacekeeper killed on Friday was the ninth to die in Mali this year. The secretary-general paid tribute to “the determination and courage” of peacekeepers in Mali who work “in extremely challenging circumstances,” he said.
“This tragic loss is a stark reminder of the risks that peacekeepers in Mali and other places around the world face while tirelessly working to bring stability and peace to the people of Mali,” he said.