According to the interim government, Islamist militants attacked a river boat in north-eastern Mali, killing at least 49 civilians.
River boat attack in Mali . According to reports, they also attacked an army camp, killing 15 soldiers and around 50 militants.
National mourning will last for three days, according to the government.
Islamist threat has grown despite military claims that Russian Wagner Group mercenaries are turning the tide.
The northern city of Timbuktu, about 50km (30 miles) from where the boat was attacked, has been under blockade since the end of last month, and other attacks have occurred recently.
A government report read out on national television could not be independently verified by the BBC.
A boat traveling from the town of Gao to Mopti was attacked by militants on the River Niger. Despite the lack of quality roads and railways in the region, the river is a key transport link.
In the Gao region, militants also attacked an army camp in the Bourem Circle.
On social media, the Malian army said the boat was attacked by “armed terrorist groups” around 11:00 GMT.
Despite claiming responsibility for the assault on the army camp, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) has not mentioned the boat attack. Several Islamist militant groups operate in northern Mali and neighboring countries.
As well, the army said it carried out an attack on Friday on another military base in Gao, which it described as “complex.”
According to Comanav, at least three rockets were fired at the vessel’s engines, according to AFP news agency.
An anonymous Comanav official said the vessel was immobilized on the river and the army went in to evacuate passengers.
Since 2020, a military junta has ruled Mali.
In the aftermath of mass protests against Ibrahim Boubacar Keta, the junta gained huge popular support. The economic uncertainty, contested elections, and chronic insecurity had angered the population.
According to data, Mali’s military government has made little progress in fighting back against Islamists in parts of the country since then.
French troops and UN peacekeepers have been ordered out of Mali, and Russian contractors have been invited to replace them.
In 2012, an insurgency linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State erupted in northern Mali. Since then, Islamist militants have gained ground in the Sahel region, especially in Burkina Faso and Niger.
Lavrov in Africa: Can Wagner mercenaries help Mali fight jihadis?
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has promised continued military support for Mali, which has been battling jihadist insurgents since 2012.
As a result of its decision last year, Mali turned away from former colonial power France in favor of Russian assistance.
The foreign minister is visiting Africa for the second time in two weeks.
As the Ukrainian war continues, Russia aims to shore up its allies in West Africa, but its involvement has been growing for years.
During his two-day visit to Mali, Mr Lavrov outlined Moscow’s ambition to support governments fighting Islamist militants across West Africa with military support.
Russia’s shift to Mali has been criticized by the military government.
During a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said, “We will no longer justify our choice of partner. Russia is here on request by Mali and responds effectively to our strategic needs.”
Wagner Group fighters have been operating in Mali for more than a year, but the authorities have not formally confirmed this.
In spite of this, they have not been any more successful than other forces in dealing with the decade-long jihadist threat, and insecurity may have worsened.
According to Acled Info, civilian deaths as a result of violence more than doubled last year.
The Soviet Union lionized Moscow
Mali’s military junta, however, has dismissed reports of deteriorating security as “fake news”.
As a result, Moscow has been lauded for supplying heavy military equipment to Bamako on several occasions since the army seized power in August 2020.
Among these are Sukhoi fighter jets and combat helicopters.
Our weapons are the pride of the entire nation,” said Mali’s interim president in a speech on army day last month. “We have achieved more than we have achieved over the past two decades.” Although he did not give specific examples, he said people had been able to return home.
In spite of this, the presence of Russian mercenaries abruptly halted France’s and its European allies’ efforts to counter the jihadist threat in Mali.
The deployment of Wagner was a response to waning patience with French forces, which had initially made great strides against militants when first deployed in 2013.
A planned withdrawal of nearly 3,000 troops from Germany, the UK, Ivory Coast and Benin threatens to weaken the ability of the nearly 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission (Minusma) to protect civilians.
Over time, Islamic State and al-Qaeda attacks have spread into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, while militant activity is gradually spreading south to the Gulf of Guinea.
The reference news is CNN