German helicopter serving with UN crashes in Mali

Bamako (AFP) – A German helicopter with two crew on board crashed in northern Mali on Wednesday in an apparent accident while monitoring clashes for the peacekeeping force, UN sources told AFP.

The UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has sent a team to the site to check for possible casualties and find out what happened, said spokesman Farhan Haq in New York. The helicopter cam down near Tabankort, south of Gao.

UN diplomats separately confirmed that the attack helicopter and the crew had been supplied by Germany to MINUSMA.

And a UN source in the northern city of Gao described a German helicopter crashing in “an accident” in the Ilouk area, adding “we will release the toll later.”

That source added “nothing at this stage” would suggest the aircraft “was hit or shot at” as it monitored ongoing fighting in the area.

Northern Mali is the site of frequent clashes between rival armed groups, as well as a haven for jihadist activity.

The United Nations operation there, launched in 2013, is considered the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission, with dozens of its staff killed in the last four years.

Germany has reinforced its presence in Mali this year, deploying several helicopters and raising the number of Germans serving in MINUSMA to 639 as of June. France has expressed hope its European neighbour will do more in the poor and insecure Sahel region.

The crash comes two years after two Dutch UN peacekeepers died when their Apache attack helicopter crashed in northern Mali.

In 2012, key cities in Mali’s north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, who exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising.

While the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation, attacks have continued on UN and French forces, civilians and the Malian army.

Former rebels still control the northern city of Kidal, and fighting between groups previously loyal to the Tuareg rebellion and pro-government militia is common, in violation of a ceasefire.

The United Nations has condemned such violations by the combatants, but the state is absent from much of Mali’s northern territory and its terrain is very difficult to traverse.

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