NIAMEY (Reuters) - At least 29 Niger soldiers were killed in an ambush by insurgents near the country's border with Mali, the defence ministry said, the deadliest attack since the military seized power in a coup in July.
Separately, the Niger junta denied it had accepted an offer by Algeria to act as a mediator to solve its political crisis, even though Algeria had said on Monday it had received official notification of Niger's acceptance.
Niger and its neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, also run by military governments that seized power in coups, are all battling militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State who have killed thousands and displaced over two million people in the Sahel region. They signed a security pact last month promising to defend each other against rebels or aggressors.
The attack in Niger took place as soldiers were returning from operations against the militants. They were targeted by more than 100 assailants in vehicles and on motor-bikes using explosive devices and suicide bombers.
"The provisional toll of the attack is as follows, 29 soldiers fell in battle and two were wounded," the defence ministry said in a statement read on Niger national television, adding that several dozen assailants were killed.
It did not specify which group was responsible or when exactly the ambush occurred, but said the military operation took place between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2.
Three days of national mourning have been declared.
The spate of coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020 was partly driven by frustrations among the military and citizens over insecurity. But the violence has increased just as the juntas are kicking out foreign troops that were previously helping fight the militants. United Nations peacekeepers are also leaving.
Insurgents, many with links to Islamic State, have been particularly active along the Mali-Niger border since French and U.N. troops left southeast Mali, ending crucial air reconnaissance support.
West Africa's regional bloc and Western powers have called on Niger to rapidly restore constitutional rule. But the junta has been dragging its feet.
The junta said in a statement on Monday that it was surprised by the Algeria's assertion that Niger had agreed for it to act as mediator, and that it rejected its conclusions.
(Reporting by Abdel-Kader Mazou; Writing by Bate Felix and Sofia Christensen; Editing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Angus MacSwan)