8 soldiers, 57 fighters killed in clashes.

Eight Malian sol­diers were killed, 14 oth­ers wound­ed and four miss­ing after a clash with fight­ers in the north­east­ern part of the West African nation, the Defense Min­istry said.

The min­istry said Fri­day night that columns of fight­ers on motor­cy­cles blocked the unit, but the army, sup­port­ed by the air force, killed 57 of them in the tri-bor­der area near Burk­i­na Faso.

The troops were tar­get­ed by “uniden­ti­fied armed men” in the Archam area, near the bor­der with Burk­i­na Faso and trou­bled Niger, the state­ment said.

Some 40 civil­ians have been killed this week in the area, where rival armed groups, includ­ing the EIIL, oper­ate, res­i­dents told the AFP news agency.

The civil­ians were believed to be loy­al to the rival armed groups, accord­ing to local sources.

Mali is at the epi­cen­ter of a Sahel-wide con­flict that has killed thou­sands of sol­diers and civil­ians and dis­placed some two mil­lion people.

Rebel groups linked to Al Qae­da and EIIL con­trol swaths of ter­ri­to­ry in the porous bor­der areas of Mali, Burk­i­na Faso and Niger.

The lat­est attack comes as Mal­i’s rul­ing mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment on Fri­day called on France to with­draw its troops from its ter­ri­to­ry “with­out delay,” call­ing into ques­tion Paris’ plan for a four- to six-month depar­ture and under­scor­ing the break­down in rela­tions between Paris and its for­mer colony.

Mali has strug­gled to regain sta­bil­i­ty since 2012, when Tuareg rebels and loose­ly aligned armed groups seized the north­ern two-thirds of the country.

Forces from for­mer colo­nial pow­er France inter­vened and helped defeat the armed groups in 2013, but the fight­ers regrouped in the desert and began con­duct­ing reg­u­lar attacks on the army and civil­ians. They have since export­ed their meth­ods to neigh­bor­ing Burk­i­na Faso and Niger, where vio­lence has soared in recent years, leav­ing a severe human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in its wake.

France has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, includ­ing 2,400 in Mali. Its so-called Barkhane force is also present in Chad, Niger, Burk­i­na Faso and Mauritania.

A state­ment signed Thurs­day by France and its African and Euro­pean allies said the “mul­ti­ple obstruc­tions” by Mal­i’s rul­ing mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment meant con­di­tions were no longer right to oper­ate in the country.

France and 15 Euro­pean coun­tries con­demned in Decem­ber the deci­sion by Malian author­i­ties to allow the deploy­ment of per­son­nel from the Russ­ian group Wag­n­er, which has report­ed­ly begun oper­at­ing in the coun­try and is accused of human rights abus­es in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Libya and Syria.

The deci­sion to with­draw applies to both Barkhane and the Euro­pean Taku­ba force that France had tried to forge with its allies.

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