BAMAKO (Reuters) - Unknown attackers fired dozens of rockets towards a U.N. base on the outskirts of the north Malian town of Kidal early on Sunday, killing at least three people, the United Nations said.
The incident is the third attack in the West African country this weekend, pointing to ongoing unrest two years after France helped retake the desert north from al Qaeda-linked militants.
“This morning at 0540 GMT (0140 DST), the MINUSMA (U.N.’s Mali peacekeeping force) compound in Kidal was the target of more than 30 rockets and shells as part of a sophisticated attack,” the U.N. said in a statement. One U.N. peacekeeper was killed and eight others were injured, the statement added.
“MINUSMA is outraged at the cowardice of attackers who also targeted innocent civilians.”
Security sources said that U.N. and French troops who share the base returned fire and sent air support. The peacekeeper killed was Chadian, they said, adding that calm had been restored.
A French army spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment.
At least one shell fell on a nearby camp for Tuareg and Arab nomads, killing two children and injuring several others, a witness and residents said.
A photo sent by the witness and seen by Reuters showed one of the dead children lying on a blanket in the sand.
“We were sleeping when the rockets fell. Three rockets landed near us and the third fell just outside my house. Two are dead and three injured seriously, including my wife,” said resident Rhissa Ag.
France launched a U.N.-backed military intervention in its former colony in January 2013 to drive Islamic militants from towns in northern Mali which they had seized a year earlier.
The militants were scattered but continue to mount an insurgency against the Malian army and U.N. troops based there.
A Sahara-based Islamist group on Saturday claimed responsibility for a rare attack in Mali’s southern capital Bamako that killed five people, including two foreigners.
The group al-Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for previous attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. A Reuters reporter in the capital said that several nearby restaurants popular with Westerners had closed in Bamako following the incident.
Separately, a crowd in the central Malian town of Gao lynched two men on Saturday they accused of attempting to launch a grenade attack against a police post, a witness said.
The Tuareg stronghold of Kidal has been targeted before by rockets suspected to have been fired by Islamists, although the intensity of Sunday’s attack was unusual.
The attack comes as the United Nations is seeking to clinch a peace deal with Tuareg-led separatists for the desert north.
A week ago, Mali’s government signed a peace proposal although the separatists asked for more time to consult with their populations, including residents of Kidal.
Reporting by Adama Diarra, David Lewis, John Irish; writing by Emma Farge; editing by Jermey Gaunt