Nine Malian soldiers have been killed in an ambush in the conflict-wracked centre of the country as they made their way to the site of a massacre of villagers, the army said.
The latest attack took place on Thursday at the entrance to Gouari, one of the villages where armed men killed about 30 civilians the day before.
A military unit was dispatched to the site on Wednesday to help bury the 31 bodies, army spokesman Colonel Diarran Kone told AFP news agency.
On Thursday, the army received information about a new attack and sent the unit to Gouari, he said.
“When it arrived at around 8pm, the village seemed deserted, there were practically no signs of life,” he said. “Just at the entrance, the FAMa (Malian Armed Forces) walked into an ambush,” he said, without naming who might be behind the attack.
“We regret that nine died and two were injured, and equipment was also destroyed.”
Unrest in central Mali has killed nearly 600 civilians this year, the United Nations said last month.
Clashes between the ethnic Fulani and Dogon communities have increased in recent months, with community-based armed groups – initially formed for defence – now launching attacks.
Mali is struggling to contain a multilayered and complex conflict that erupted in 2012 when ethnic Taureg separatists, allied with fighters from an al-Qaeda offshoot, launched a rebellion that took control of the country’s north.
Armed group fighters swiftly pushed over the Tuareg rebels and seized key northern cities until they were driven out in early 2013 by French troops, together with Malian forces and soldiers from other African countries.
But the fighters including some with links to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have since regrouped and extended their operations into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger despite the presence of thousands of national and international troops, including French and United Nations forces.
Attacks have grown fivefold between 2016 and 2020, with 4,000 people killed in 2019, up from about 770 killed in 2016, according to the UN.