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BAMAKO (Reuters) - A German military helicopter assigned to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) crashed in the West African nation's desert north on Wednesday, a spokesman for the mission said.

There was no information on the fate of the Tiger attack helicopter's two German crew members or the cause of the crash, which occurred in the Gao region at around midday (1200 GMT), spokesman Ahmad Makaila said.

Germany increased its commitment to MINUSMA earlier this year with the deployment of eight attack and transport helicopters as well as 350 additional soldiers.

It now has around 1,000 troops serving in Mali as part of MINUSMA and a separate European Union mission.

The crash comes at a politically sensitive time in Germany with just weeks to go to a national election in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term.

Merkel's Social Democratic challengers have raised questions about increasing military spending to reach a NATO target of 2 percent of economic output, and recently blocked plans for leasing an armed drone to support German troops, for instance, in Mali.

Four years after a French-led military intervention drove Islamist fighters from cities and towns they had seized in 2012, northern Mali remains racked by violence.

Militant fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, regularly target Malian soldiers and U.N. troops in attacks that have made MINUSMA the world's deadliest U.N. peacekeeping mission.

(Reporting by Yvonne Bell and Souleymane Ag Anara; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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