By Boureima HAMA
Niamey (AFP) Oct 7, 2016
Twenty-two soldiers have been killed in an attack blamed on jihadists against a camp in Niger sheltering almost 4,000 Malian refugees, security officials said on Friday.
The attack against the camp in Tazalit, in the Tahoua region some 300 kilometres (200 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey and close to the Malian border, took place in broad daylight on Thursday.
"A band of unidentified criminals in vehicles that had travelled from Mali" carried out the attack, killing "14 national guards, five gendarmes, and three army soldiers," defence ministry spokesman Moustapha Ledru said in a televised statement.
"Immediately after their crime, the assailants took flight towards Mali. The enemy were pursued in order to catch and neutralise them," he added.
"This attack will not go unpunished," the spokesman pledged, calling on the country's security forces to continue their "implacable fight against these criminal groups with courage and dedication."
A security official who asked not to be named said "some 30 to 40 heavily armed men speaking in Tuareg carried out the attack, killing 22 soldiers."
The assailants "headed directly to the camp's security post and machine-gunned the soldiers who were having lunch," he said.
He said the attack was "probably carried out by jihadists."
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which confirmed the death toll, said in a statement that five soldiers were also hurt in the attack, while the three remaining soldiers deployed at the camp managed to escape.
No refugees were hurt, according to the agency.
The attackers left some two hours later after seizing a vehicle as well as weapons, food, medical supplies and clothing.
UNHCR says about 60,000 Malians have sought refuge in Niger, which is also sheltering around 80,000 Nigerians who have fled attacks by Boko Haram jihadists.
Boko Haram in recent months has escalated its attacks inside Niger, with at least 26 soldiers killed in the southeastern town of Bosso in June.
In attacks attributed to other jihadist groups active in the region, at least two civilians were killed last month at the Tabareybarey refugee camp in western Niger, near the border with Mali.
Despite a peace accord and a 2013 international military intervention, large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or foreign troops and remain subject to attacks by jihadists.
Although its long borders are quite porous, Niger has for the most part escaped the armed violence that has rocked neighbouring states Libya and Nigeria, as well as Mali.
Northern Mali fell under the control of Al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups in 2012 before a French-led military intervention the following year, which is still ongoing, pushed them out of the area.
Senior Mozambique opposition member shot dead
Jeremias Pondeca was killed on Saturday as he was out jogging. The announcement of his death came on the eve of the resumption of stalled negotiations.
The 55-year-old was a member of a joint commission established in May to find ways to end a standoff between the government and Renamo.
"Once yet again, one of our members has fallen to bullets fired by the enemies of democracy," Renamo said in a statement, adding that Pondeca was killed on Saturday.
The European Union condemned the killing, saying in a statement: "Violence can never be an alternative to peaceful dialogue when trying to reach a sustainable solution in a political conflict."
It urged the different parties to stay committed to the peace talks, offering its assistance "by all available means".
Renamo, which previously waged a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, has refused to accept the results of 2014 elections when it was beaten once more by the ruling Frelimo party, in power since the former Portuguese colony's independence 40 years ago.
Renamo has in past few years staged a string of deadly attacks in Mozambique as it fights to make its voice heard and for a greater share of power.
The peace talks, which have been suspended for 10 days, were due to resume on Monday. The negotiations have broken down several times in the past.
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