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Seven soldiers, one civilian killed in Mali bomb blast

Seven soldiers and a civilian driver were killed in central Mali when their vehicle hit explosives in the latest attack in an area riven by jihadist violence, the defence ministry said Thursday.

Wednesday’s “cowardly terrorist attack” took place between the northern city of Timbuktu and Mopti in the centre, a statement said, adding that the soldiers were on an escort mission.

“Two escort vehicles of the Malian army hit improvised explosive devices between Bambara-Maoude and Douentza,” it said.

A total of 120 French soldiers meanwhile landed Thursday by parachute in the north-eastern region of Menaka, a particularly volatile region near the border with Niger, to boost counter-insurgency operations, French military spokesman Colonel Patrik Steiger said.

“We are combining our capacities to create a surprise effect for the armed terrorist groups and to show to locals that we are capable of arriving quickly,” he said.

Mali’s unrest stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.

The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of Malian, French and UN forces, which are frequent targets of attacks.

Jihadist violence, meanwhile, has spread from northern Mali to the centre and south and spilled into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, often exacerbating communal conflicts.

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