France considers reducing troop numbers as fighting worsens.
Armed men in southwestern Niger have killed at least 58 people when they intercepted a convoy returning from a weekly market and attacked a nearby village, the government said on Tuesday.
The attacks on Monday occurred in the Tillabery region, which is near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso and has seen increasingly deadly attacks by armed groups active across the region with links to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
The announcement was read on Niger state television on Tuesday evening by government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria, who declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
The mass killings underscore the enormous security challenges facing Niger’s new president, Mohamed Bazoum, who won the election in late February to succeed outgoing leader Mahamadou Issoufou.
Attackers killed at least 100 civilians on January 2 in raids on two villages in Tillabery, one of the deadliest episodes in the country’s recent history.
The assailants this time intercepted four vehicles transporting passengers from a weekly market to the villages of Chinagoder and Darey Dey, the government said in a statement.
“These individuals then gutlessly and cruelly proceeded to carry out targeted executions of passengers,” it said. “In the village of Darey Dey, they killed people and burned the granaries.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s massacres.
The violence is part of a wider security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region. Many of the attacks are concentrated where the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso meet, a zone that a 5,000-strong French task force has targeted heavily.
Not only are armed groups active in the Tillaberi region, but the counterterrorism offensives against them have helped give rise to ethnic militias, analysts say.
Intercommunal tensions have been exacerbated as a result, particularly near the border between Mali and Niger, with fighting over scarce resources.
Fighters staged mass attacks on Niger’s military in the Tillaberi region, killing more than 70 in December 2019 and 89 in January 2020.