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BAMAKO (Reuters) - At least eight Malian soldiers were killed on Tuesday in an ambush by suspected Islamist militants on a road in the country's central region, said an army spokesman.

Militants have staged a series of attacks in Mali in recent months, despite a 2013 French-led operation to drive the groups out of northern cities they had seized. A suicide bombing at an army base in January killed at least 77 people.

The army convoy was ambushed between the towns of Dogofri and Nampala. "The provisional toll is eight dead and some people wounded," said army spokesman Colonel Diaran Kone, holding unspecified Islamists responsible.

Armed groups, some linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have planted mines in northern and central Mali in pursuit of their campaign against the Malian government and its international allies.

The government extended a state of emergency by six months this weekend.

France said it killed more than 20 militants hiding in a forest near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso last weekend in an operation that involved both air and ground strikes.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's ambush.

(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; editing by John Stonestreet)

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