Dozens of civilians among 64 killed in attacks in Mali

By Teele Rebane and Stephanie Busari, CNN

CNN  —  Two attacks by suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants in restive northeastern Mali Thursday killed 64 people including dozens of civilians, the country’s transitional government said.

The attacks targeted a passenger boat on the Niger River near Timbuktu and an army base in Bamba, in the northern Gao region, killing 49 civilians and 15 soldiers, according to the interim government’s statement.

It was not immediately clear how many people died in each attack.

The Malian Army said an “armed terrorist group” attacked the passenger boat at 11 a.m. local time near Rharous Cercle in the Timbuktu region.

The attacks were claimed by Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a militant group associated with al Qaeda, the government said.

Authorities declared three days of national mourning in the country, which has seen an escalation in violence after seeing two military coups in the past three years.

Mali is part of the Sahara-Sahel region and one of several African countries battling Islamist insurgents.

The United Nations in June said “endless” violence was being unleashed on civilians in northeastern Mali by the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group and its affiliates.

Experts have voiced widespread concern regarding the worsening conditions in the troubled Sahel state.

“In less than a year, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has almost doubled its areas of control in Mali,” a UN Security Council report released in August said.

The UN also expressed concerns about human rights abuses by Mali’s armed forces and “their foreign security partners.”

Hundreds of Russian mercenary Wagner contractors have been invited to Mali by the country’s military junta, to fight the Islamists. It is unclear what has happened to them since the death of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prighozin.

“Violence against women and girls and conflict-related sexual violence remains prevalent in Mali,” UN experts said in the report.

In June, Mali called on the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which has been stationed in the country since 2013, to leave the country “without delay,” and that process is ongoing.

Mali’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop accused the UN of exacerbating the security problems in the country.

Almost 9 million people need humanitarian assistance in the country. Earlier this month, UN agencies said 200,000 children were at risk of starvation.

“A nexus of protracted armed conflict, internal displacement and limited humanitarian access threatens to plunge nearly one million children under the age of five into acute malnutrition by the end of this year … if life-saving aid fails to reach them,” the UN said.

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