French soldier killed in attack on military camp in northern Mali

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A French soldier has died in Mali, the French defence ministry announced on Sunday, the latest loss coming as Paris ponders whether to stop providing military backup to the junta-run West African country.

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His death brings to 53 the total number of combat deaths suffered by French forces since they first deployed troops to Mali nine years ago to fight an insurgency by Islamic extremists.

The soldier was killed in a salvo of around a dozen artillery rounds fired Saturday at a military base in Gao in the volatile and poverty-wracked Sahel region, said a defence ministry statement.

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Nine others were injured by the rounds, launched five to six kilometres (three to four miles) to the northest in an area known to be used by the Qaeda-linked GSIM Islamist insurgent group, a military spokesman said.

President Emmanuel Macron “pays tribute to the courage of soldiers on duty in the Sahel and expresses his total confidence in them”, said a statement from his office.

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“He confirms France's determination to continue the fight against terrorism in the region, alongside its partners,” it added.

On Sunday, an official of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali said mortar fire hit one of its camps, in Menaka in the north of the country, without causing any casualties.

“Deep sadness at the news of the death in combat of Brigadier Alexandre Martin on January 22 in Gao, Mali. I salute his commitment,” the French army's chief of general staff tweeted on Sunday.

More than 4,000 French forces are stationed in the Sahel region of West Africa as part of the Barkhane anti-terror operation, most of them in Mali.

France, which first deployed troops in the West African country nine years ago to fight a jihadist insurgency, has spent around €880 million a year on a mission that has cost 53 French soldiers their lives.

Paris has started reducing its presence in Mali, hoping to halve the contingent by the summer of 2023, and has asked its European Union allies to provide more support.

It is now mulling an earlier exit amid rapidly deteriorating relations with the military junta that has ruled the country since a coup in August 2020.

France is angry over the junta's refusal to organise planned elections to bring in a civilian government, a move that has triggered sanctions from the ECOWAS bloc of West African nations.

Paris has also condemned Mali's alleged hiring of the Wagner group of mercenaries believed to be close to Russia's leadership.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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