Three dead in rocket attack on UN base in north Mali

Two UN peacekeepers and a civilian contractor were killed in a rocket attack Saturday on a UN base in northeast Mali, a week after a deadly siege at a Bamako hotel claimed by jihadists.

"Our camp in Kidal was attacked early this morning by terrorists using rockets," said an official from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), adding that two Guinean peacekeepers and a contractor working for the United Nations were killed. A local official confirmed the report.

"The terrorists fired shots and then fled," another UN source said.

MINUSMA later confirmed the death toll in a statement and said a further 20 people were injured in the pre-dawn attack, four seriously.

No group had yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which came eight days after a siege at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, in which 20 people died including 14 foreigners.

Armed men held around 170 guests and staff hostage in the November 20 attack that lasted about nine hours before Malian, French and US forces stormed the hotel to free the captives, killing two assailants.

Two separate jihadist groups claimed responsibility for that assault: the Al-Murabitoun group, an Al-Qaeda affiliate led by notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and the Macina Liberation Front (LWF) from central Mali.

Four days later, a UN employee was killed in an attack on a peacekeeping convoy near the historic desert town of Timbuktu.

MINUSMA chief Mongi Hamdi said in a statement the attacks "would not dent the determination of the UN to support the Malian people and the peace process, including assisting in the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali".

Mali has been plagued by unrest since the north of the vast west African state fell under the control of Tuareg rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.

The Islamists soon sidelined the Tuareg to take sole control of Timbuktu, Kidal and other northern towns but lost most of the ground they had captured in a French-led military intervention in January 2013.

Nearly three years later, large swathes of Mali still remain lawless despite a June peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels seen as crucial to ending decades of instability in the north that left it vulnerable to extremism.

Some splinter groups had opposed the agreement, including the Tuareg head of the Ansar Dine jihadist group, Iyad Ag Ghaly, who called in an October recording for further attacks, including against France.

The Macina Liberation Front, one of the two groups that claimed the Radisson attack, said it had carried out the assault "in collaboration with Ansar Dine".

France has more than 1,000 troops in Mali, a former colony and a key battleground of its Barkhane counter-terror mission spanning five countries in Africa's restive Sahel region.

The UN mission comprises around 10,200 peacekeepers, who have come under frequent attack.

With over 50 deaths MINUSMA has been the costliest UN mission in terms of lives lost since the 1993-95 UNOSOM II mission in Somalia.

This year has seen the violence spread to the centre and south of the country, which had previously been largely spared by the extremists.

In August, five UN workers and four soldiers were killed in a hostage-taking in the central town of Sevare.