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Mali junta head’s chief of staff among dead in Tuesday attack

#Mali #junta #heads #chief #staff #among #dead #Tuesday #attack

A key figure in Mali’s ruling junta died when an official convoy came under attack in the jihadist-hit north of the country, a document from the presidency said Thursday.

Oumar Traore — chief of staff of Colonel Assimi Goita, the Sahel country’s transitional president — was among four people who died in the attack on Tuesday near the Mauritanian border.

The ambush took place near the town of Nara and Wagadou forest, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bamako in an area known for jihadist insurgents.

Traore was part of a team that was accompanying engineers to scout for sites to drill for water, under an initiative to help local people.

The document identified three other victims including a security guard, a contractor and a driver, but gave no details as to the assailants. 

The funeral will take place on Thursday in Kati, a garrison town near the capital Bamako, it said.

Another driver is missing, the document said.

Mali’s army on Wednesday confirmed the ambush had taken place, but the identities of the victims had not yet been released.

The attack has not been claimed.

“The mission did not have a proper escort,” an administrative official in the region told AFP. 

A local politician warned that the security situation was deteriorating by the day.

– Twin crises –

Mali has been battling a security crisis since jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the north of the country in 2012.

French military intervention helped to quell the turmoil, but the jihadists regrouped, launching attacks in the tense centre of the country and in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015.

The violence has displaced millions of people across the three countries and cost thousands of lives, although tolls are sketchy.

In Mali, the unrest fed a political crisis, leading to two coups in 2020 and 2021.

The military junta, now led by Goita, broke a long-standing alliance with France and other Western partners in the fight against jihadism and turned toward Moscow, bringing in Russian paramilitaries.

Under international pressure, it has pledged to return power to elected civilians by March 2024.

A referendum on a draft constitution, validated by Goita, was due to be held on March 19 but has been postponed until further notice. 

The new constitution is the centrepiece of plans the military has invoked to justify continuing to govern until 2024. 

In January, Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga declared that the security situation in Mali had improved.

“Today, there is no part of the Malian territory where the Malian army cannot go — this was not the case before the transition”, he said on state television. 

“So we have regained the whole of our national territory.”

But in February he was forced to abandon parts of a visit to the north of the country because of insecurity.

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