UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Seven U.N. peacekeepers were killed and three critically injured when their vehicle was blasted by an improvised explosive device in central Mali on Wednesday, bringing the death toll of U.N. soldiers in the troubled west African nation to 19 so far this year.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said all the peacekeepers killed and injured were from Togo, and the U.N. peacekeeping department said the seven deaths were the highest number from a malicious act against peacekeepers in Mali this year.
Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies. Insecurity has worsened with attacks on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.
In June, Col. Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Mali faces increasing isolation from the international community over the junta’s power grab. Elections are due to be held in February, though there are fears they could be delayed.
Dujarric said the IED detonated in the Bandiagara region, hitting the vehicle carrying peacekeepers from Togo who were part of a U.N. logistics convoy traveling from Douentza to Sevare. The U.N. peacekeeping department said the soldiers were traveling in an armored personnel carrier.
The 19 peacekeepers who have lost their lives in Mali this year include eight from Togo, three from Egypt including one who died Monday from injuries suffered in an attack in northern Mali last month, four from Ivory Coast and four from Chad, the U.N. said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Malian authorities “to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of this attack so that they can be brought to justice swiftly,” Dujarric said.
He said the U.N. chief sends condolences to the families, government and people of Togo and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and also called for those responsible to be held accountable.
More than 87,000 peacekeepers from over 120 countries currently serve in 12 missions around the world, including about 16,600 in Mali.
The attack took place as a U.N. peacekeeping ministerial summit was ending in Seoul, South Korea.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the summit that over the last four years the U.N. has made notable progress in improving the safety and security of those serving in peacekeeping missions. But he reiterated that more needs to be done, including ensuring that missions have the required capabilities — and more women.
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