A landmine explosion blew up a civilian passenger vehicle in central Mali on Thursday, killing 13 people and wounding several others, the army spokesman said.
The vehicle had crossed the volatile border with neighbouring Burkina Faso, where militants loyal to Islamic State are known to operate, when it ran over the mine, Malian army spokesman Colonel Diarran Kone said by telephone.
In the past three years, Islamist groups that had long been destabilising the thinly populated desert north of Mali have swept south into its wetter, more populated central regions, exploiting local conflicts to spread jihad.
That has shifted the battlefield closer to the more prosperous south and capital Bamako, raising concerns for the security of a presidential election expected between July and November.
“I can confirm that a transport vehicle left Dibo in Burkina and ran over a mine near the town of Boni in Mali,” Kone said. “The death toll is 13 and there are some wounded.”
Mali and its western neighbour Senegal plan to deploy 1,000 troops soon in an operation to pacify central Mali and contain jihadists who had previously been confined to its Saharan expanses in the north.
But analysts doubt they will be able to do so purely via military means. The Islamists are deft at instrumentalising the grievances of Fulani cattle herders, and their disputes with local farmers over access to grazing lands.
Periodic crackdowns on suspected jihadists have therefore tended to target the Fulani, further raising tensions and driving some of them into the militants’ arms.