BAMAKO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen killed three Guinean members of a U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Mali in what the force described as a robbery gone wrong, far from the northern area where troops have been attacked by insurgents.
The peacekeepers were in a rental vehicle on their way to return to Guinea for leave when they were stopped 44 kilometers (27 miles) southwest of Bamako on Friday night, the mission, known as MINUSMA, said.
U.N. peacekeepers and French forces are stationed in central and northern Mali to combat well armed jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State seen as threatening security across Africa’s Sahel region. A MINUSMA spokesman said that the attack was a botched robbery, which would distinguish it from targeted attacks by jihadists using mortars and mines in the north of the country that have made Mali the deadliest U.N. mission with more than 160 peacekeepers killed.
Still, such an incident so close to the capital is rare and underscores how precarious the security situation has become in Mali, where government troops struggle to maintain control of vast swathes of sparsely populated desert. (Reporting By Souleymane Ag Anara and Tiemoko Diallo Writing by Edward McAllister Editing by Peter Graff)