Malian rebels ambush soldiers

Gunmen killed three gendarmes in an overnight ambush near a town in central Mali, the defence ministry said on Wednesday, confirming the latest in a growing wave of attacks that risk spilling over into Mali’s West African neighbours.

However, U.N. and French officials vigorously denied a claim by Islamist militant group Ansar Dine to have conducted two other lethal attacks on their convoys in the northern Kidal region since January 15.

The identities of the assailants in the central Mali attack were not immediately known.

However a Malian army source, who asked not to be named, said that fighters from the Massina Liberation Front (FLM), another militant group based in the area, were believed to have been behind the attack near the town of Mopti.

He said three or four gendarmes were killed in the raid.

Mali’s army and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) are frequently targeted in attack by militants. Strikes on France’s better-equipped regional counter-terror force Barkhane are less frequent.

The attack near the town of Mopti comes as an Islamist insurgency intensifies in Mali and spreads across West Africa into areas previously considered outside the sphere of operations of militants.