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BAMAKO (Reuters) - The bodies of eight Malian soldiers killed in an ambush by suspected Islamist fighters last week have been discovered in the West African nation's desert north, a local lawmaker and army officer said on Monday.

The soldiers went missing a week ago after their convoy was attacked on the road between the towns of Gao and Menaka.

"They were killed in the fighting last week ... There are eight of them. I have two nephews who were killed," said Badian Ag Hamatou, a member of parliament from Menaka. "They were encircled by the jihadists."

A senior army officer, who asked not to be named, said a team sent to the scene had been able to identify the bodies as those of the missing soldiers. They were buried where they were found, he said.

Malian soldiers are regularly targeted in attacks by Islamist groups, some of them with links to al Qaeda.

Islamist fighters seized northern Mali in 2012 before they were driven back by a French-led military intervention a year later. But they remain active despite the presence of a U.N. peacekeeping mission and a 4,000-troop cross-border French operation to stamp them out.

Leaders of five countries in West Africa's Sahel region launched a multinational force this month with a primary mission of tackling the Islamist militants, who have spread their violence beyond Mali's borders to neighbouring states.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Souleymane Ag Anara; Writing by Joe Bavier, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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