Land mine blast in northern Mali kills three French soldiers

image copyrightAFP
image captionAt least 3,500 French soldiers are deployed to the Sahel on a counter-terror mission

A landmine in Mali has killed three French soldiers on an operation in the north of the country, the French presidency says.

One soldier died immediately from the explosion on Tuesday while the others died later from their wounds.

A convoy of vehicles had been heading north from Gao to Tessalit when the mine exploded under the lead vehicle.

France has had troops in Mali since 2013 when it led an operation to oust jihadists who had seized the north.

On Tuesday, President Francois Hollande expressed his condolences on news of the first death, paying "deep respect for the sacrifice of this young soldier in the service of our country".

A further statement from the Elysee Palace says (in French) says he learnt of the death of the other two soldiers with great sadness.

All three, he said, had been part of Operation Barkhane that "aims to bring stability in the Sahel and the fight against terrorism".

It is a French-led operation against militant groups that began in 2014 and involves some 3,500 French soldiers deployed to five countries in the Sahel, a semi-arid region just south of the Sahara Desert.

Northern Mali was overrun in 2012 by groups linked to al-Qaeda who then threatened to march on the capital, Bamako.

France's intervention in 2013 successfully drove them from northern towns but the militants retreated to their desert hide-outs, regrouped and over the last year have launched high-profile attacks, targeting hotels in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

The UN is also trying to restore peace to northern Mali and currently has more than 11,700 UN peacekeepers in the country.

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