At least 22 soldiers have been killed in Niger after unknown assailants attacked security forces guarding a camp for Malian refugees, according to Niger Prime Minister Brigi Rafini.
The armed men attacked soldiers stationed at the Tazalit camp in Niger’s western Tahoua region, bordering Mali, the U.N. said in a statement. They also burned an ambulance and looted a health center.
The camp shelters Malians who have fled to Niger since Islamist militants, some with links to al Qaeda, seized Mali’s desert north in 2012.
In addition to the 22 killed, five soldiers were injured before the assailants fled with a stolen military vehicle, it said.
“We received information of an attack on the camp in Tassalit. For the moment we are told there are 22 dead, but that is not a total death toll,” Rafini said in comments broadcast on state-run television TeleSahel.
“The death toll could increase.”
The prime minister gave no further information concerning the identities of the attackers, or whether any civilians had been killed or wounded.
The gunmen did not harm any of the nearly 4,000 Malian refugees sheltering there, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
A French-led military intervention pushed back the insurgents a year later but rebel fighting and Islamist attacks in Mali have led more people to flee the country. More than 60,000 Malian refugees now live in Niger.
Last month, a Malian woman and child were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a security post at another refugee camp in Niger, the U.N. said.
Niger’s army is currently battling Boko Haram fighters who launch raids across its southern border from Nigeria while seeking to prevent an overflow of attacks from Mali.