Landmine kills four Malian troops: police

Four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in northern territory where French-led forces recently chased out Islamist rebels, Mali's paramilitary police said Thursday.

"Yesterday (Wednesday) a Malian army vehicle was blown up by a mine placed by the Islamist criminals between Douentza and Gao. There were four deaths," an officer told AFP in Douentza, 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of the Malian capital Bamako.

A spokesman for one of the armed Islamist groups that occupied northern Mali for 10 months before the French intervention, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said the group had "created a new combat zone" in the conflict and claimed a series of recent attacks.

"MUJAO is behind the explosion of two Malian army cars between Gao and Hombori," on the road to Douentza, the group's spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui said in a text message sent to AFP.

He called on Malians to stay away from main roads, which he said had been heavily mined.

"We urge infinite jihad and a struggle against infidel regimes and the establishment of God's sharia and for Muslims to be freed," he added.

The French military has warned the Islamists likely left many mines and improvised explosive devices before fleeing its intervention, launched on January 11 to stop the insurgents from advancing on the capital.

The 400-kilometre road between Douentza and Gao is believed to be particularly dangerous.

A landmine had already killed two Malian soldiers there on January 31.

French-led troops reclaimed Douentza on January 21. Gao, the largest city in the north, was reclaimed on January 26.