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Unidentified assailants killed at least 43 people in raids on villages in northern Burkina Faso on Sunday, in one of the deadliest such attacks of the past year, the government said.

The attackers targeted at least two villages in the North region, near the border with Mali, the government said in a statement on Monday.

No claim was immediately made for the attack. Jihadist groups with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, and ethnic militias, have repeatedly targeted civilians in the area, part of spiralling violence in Burkina and its neighbours Mali and Niger.

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The violence killed hundreds of civilians last year across the Sahel, a semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara Desert, alarming Western powers who have poured money and troops to combat the Islamist groups. It comes as the United States considers a drawdown of troops in the region.

Sunday’s attacks targeted villages inhabited by Fulani herders, a second government statement said. Tit-for-tat reprisal killings between the Fulani and rival farming communities have surged over the past year, compounding the destruction wrought by the jihadists.

Two attacks in northern Burkina Faso in January killed 36 and 39 people, respectively. The violence has forced more than half a million from their homes and made much of the north ungovernable.

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