Fifteen militants have been killed in an anti-jihadist operation in central Mali, the Malian army said on Saturday, adding that one soldier died and two others were injured.
The “terrorists” were “neutralised, their weapons recovered and their motorbikes destroyed” during Friday’s mission in the Tina forest in the Mopti region, the army said in a statement.
The army “suffered one death and two injuries”.
Mali has seen a resurgence of violence in recent weeks. Last Sunday a UN base in the historic city of Timbuktu was attacked by rocket fire and car bombs, killing one UN peacekeeper and wounding seven others.
Last month the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) expressed “deep concern” over an increase in “serious violations and human rights abuses against civilians, including cases of summary execution” in the centre of the country, where jihadist groups are particularly active.
MINUSMA, which has 12 000 peacekeepers in Mali, said it had recorded at least 85 major violent incidents and armed confrontations that resulted in at least 180 civilian victims since the beginning of the year.
The unrest in the former French colony stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.
Although French forces succeeded in removing Al-Qaeda-linked groups from places such as Timbuktu, the groups have morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
The insurgency has gradually spread to the country’s centre, where local grievances are sometimes exploited by radical Islamists in a region awash with guns.
In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but other jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless.
Nomadic Fulani people and farmers from the Dogon ethnic group have also engaged in tit-for-tat violence, resulting in deaths.