A landmine blew up a civilian passenger vehicle in central Mali, killing 26 people and wounding several others, state TV reported.
The vehicle crossed the volatile border with neighbouring Burkina Faso, where militants loyal to Islamic State are known to operate, when it ran over the mine, Malian army spokesman Colonel Diarran Kone said.
State TV said many of the dead and wounded in the explosion, which happened near Boni, not far from central Mali’s medieval Islamic city of Mopti, once a popular tourist spot, were Burkina Faso nationals.
In the past three years, Islamist groups that had long been destabilising the thinly populated desert north of Mali have swept south into its wetter, more populated central regions, exploiting local conflicts to spread jihad.
That moved the battlefield closer to the more prosperous south and capital Bamako, raising concerns for the security of a presidential election expected between July and November.
In a separate incident, the Malian military said its forces came under attack in Youwarou, also near Mopti, but they repelled it.
“They neutralised seven terrorists and recovered equipment abandoned by the assailants,” it said in a statement.
Mali and its western neighbour Senegal plan to deploy 1,000 troops soon in an operation to pacify central Mali and contain jihadists previously confined to its Saharan expanses in the north.
Analysts doubt they will be able to do so purely through military means. The Islamists exploit the grievances of Fulani cattle herders and their disputes with local farmers over access to grazing lands.
Periodic crackdowns on suspected jihadists have tended to target the Fulani, driving some into the militants’ arms.