Gunmen have abducted three Chinese nationals and two Mauritanians from a construction site in southwestern Mali, according to the country’s armed forces.
The assailants stormed the site 55km (34 miles) from the town of Kwala on Saturday, and made off with five pick-up trucks and the hostages, Mali’s Armed Forces (FAMA) said in a statement on Facebook.
The men also destroyed equipment including a crane and dump trucks belonging to Chinese construction firm COVEC, and Mauritanian road-building company ATTM, according to the army.
A Malian army official, who requested anonymity, told the AFP news agency that the victims were working on road construction in the region.
“The release of all the hostages is our priority,” he said.
Mauritania’s Al-Akhbar news agency reported that the gunmen arrived on motorbikes and burned equipment as well as fuel tanks before withdrawing with captives.
Mali has been struggling since 2012 to contain violence linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) affiliated groups. The fighters have now expanded their operations from their strongholds in the country’s desert north to its centre as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
Abductions have also been frequent, both of Malians and of foreigners.
On April 8, a French journalist was abducted in northern Mali. In a hostage video, Olivier Dubois said the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the largest alliance of armed groups in the Sahel, had kidnapped him.
Amid the rising violence, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked the Security Council to authorise additional peacekeeping troops for Mali. Guterres made the request in a report dated July 15, according to Reuters news agency.
The proposed increase of 2,069 soldiers and police officers would take the authorised size of the mission, known as MINUSMA, to 17,278 uniformed personnel, the largest since it was established in 2013.
Guterres said the plan could only work in concert with stepped-up efforts by Malian authorities to bolster security and enhance governance.
Mali is mired in political uncertainty after military officers in May conducted their second coup in nine months.