GAO, Mali (Reuters) - Two Malian soldiers and at least two Islamist militants were killed on Saturday in a suicide attack on an army unit in the north of the country, a senior Malian officer told Reuters.
The attack comes as France, which launched an offensive to drive al Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mali, is looking to withdraw thousands of troops from its former colony and hand over security duties to a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Colonel Kassim Goita, a senior commander of Malian troops in the northern town of Gao, said the attack took place when soldiers followed a suspect on a motorcycle, which parked next to a vehicle which blew up as they approached.
Goita said eight soldiers had been wounded and clashes were ongoing in the area, around a village called Hamakouladji, 45 km (28 miles) to the north of Gao.
Gao was the first major town freed from Islamist control and is the hub for French and Malian military operations. But the riverside town has borne the brunt of the guerrilla-war fought by militants since they scattered into Mali’s desert and mountains.
Reporting by Cheick Diouara; Writing and additional reporting by David Lewis; Editing by Jon Hemming