Benin army vehicle strikes land mine as security fears in north grow

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DAKAR, Jan 6 (Reuters) - A Benin army vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in a national park near the border with Burkina Faso on Thursday, the park's management said, the latest in a series of security incidents as fears rise about widening Islamist violence.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that two soldiers were killed in the explosion. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm that report.

African Parks, the South African non-profit group that manages Pendjari National Park, said in a statement that the explosion had occurred near a hotel that has been closed since 2019. It made no comment on casualties.

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Benin is among the West African coastal countries considered most vulnerable to a spillover of Islamist violence from the landlocked Sahel countries, where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State exert influence over vast tracts of territory.

The government confirmed two attacks by jihadist fighters near the Burkina Faso border last month, including one that killed two soldiers and wounded several more. Additional attacks have been reported in the local and French media since then but have not been confirmed by the authorities. read more

The prefect of the Atakora region, where Thursday's explosion occurred, said there had been "an incident, not an attack" and said the army would issue a statement with more details.

Before last month's violence, Benin had not reported an Islamist attack since 2019, when a local guide was killed and two French tourists were kidnapped in Pendjari and later taken to Burkina Faso. They were rescued from a militant group by French soldiers.

Expanding conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are increasingly threatening their neighbours to the south.

Togo said last month it had repelled an attack near its northern border, the first by suspected Islamists in the country. read more Ivory Coast has also suffered several Islamist attacks near its border with Burkina Faso since 2020.

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Reporting by Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Flore Nobime Editing by Gareth Jones

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