Nine UN peacekeepers killed in ambush by gunmen on motorbikes in Mali

The latest incident is the deadliest attack on the UN mission in Mali so far

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Nine United Nations peacekeepers have been killed after their convoy came under attack from heavily armed gunmen on motorbikes in Mali, it has been reported.

The ambush is the deadliest yet in a string of attacks on the mission tasked with bringing stability to the West African country following a coup and jihadist offensive.

The peacekeepers, from Niger, came under attack in the region of Gao as the convoy of troops were travelling from Manaka to Asongo.

Arnauld Akodjenou, deputy head of the UN mission, known as MINUSMA, said: "I am horrified by this cowardly act of terrorism ... Once again, lives have been lost today in the name of peace in Mali."

A UN peacekeeping official said the attack brought the death toll for the operation to 30.

UN peacekeepers have deployed across Mali's north in an effort to secure the vast desert zone that was occupied by a mix of al Qaeda-linked Islamists in 2012 until the insurgents were scattered by French forces last year.

The presence of international troops allowed Mali to hold elections last summer but France has since redeployed some of its forces elsewhere and there has been a spike in attacks by Islamists in recent months.

Ten Chadian peacekeepers were killed in Mali last month, prompting accusations from Chad that its troops were being neglected by the UN mission.

In December last year, two UN peacekeepers were killed after a car bomb exploded in the Malian town of Kidal.

The attack destroyed the Malian Solidarity Bank, the only operating bank in the town, and set fire to a UN armoured vehicle.

Eye-witnesses said that a car packed with explosives parked in front of the bank, guarded by UN peacekeeping troops, before being detonated by a suicide bomber.

The bank building collapsed after the explosion at around 6.45am local time (GMT), prompting fears of more casualties inside.

Additional reporting by Reuters and AP