The six Guinean peacekeepers were killed in an early morning assault on a camp in the northeastern town of Kidal belonging to the United Nation's MINUSMA, according to a Guinean source in the mission and a military source in Conakry yesterday.

The latest attacks highlighted the vulnerability of Mali's sprawling arid north, where UN troops and Malian soldiers are struggling in their fight against jihadists who seized vast swathes of territory in 2012.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the "massive and complex" attack on the MINUSMA base, warning that targeting peacekeepers constitutes a war crime and pledging to support the Malian government.

Suicide bombers drove a vehicle into the base between two rocket launches, then blew it up, the Guinean source in the UN mission said.

The raid coincided with a visit to Northern Mali by the new chief of MINUSMA, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who said the raid was an "odious and irresponsible act" which highlighted the "confusion in the ranks of the enemies of peace."

Annadif was in Kidal a week after a peace pact eased tensions in the town, where the arrival of members of a pro-government group early in February had upset the former rebels in the Coordination of Movements of the Azawad.

In a separate attack, three Malian soldiers were killed and two others were wounded near the fabled city of Timbuktu, a Malian military source said.

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