Malian armed forces and suspected Russian mercenaries allegedly summarily executed an estimated 300 civilian men, some of them suspected Islamist fighters, in the central Malian town of Moura in late March 2022, Human Rights Watch.
The men were among those detained during a military operation that began on 27 March. The incident is the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict.
Human Rights Watch investigations revealed that over the course of several days in late March, Malian army forces and foreign soldiers – identified by several sources as Russians – executed in small groups several hundred people who had been rounded up in Moura.
The rural town of about 10,000 inhabitants is in the Mopti region, a hotspot of jihadist activity that has intensified and spread to neighbouring countries in the Sahel region.
Local security sources told HRW that more than 100 Russian-speaking men were allegedly involved in the operation, which HRW described as the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict. Witnesses spoke of white soldiers talking in an unfamiliar foreign language they believed to be Russian.
Mali’s army has long been accused of rights abuses during counter-insurgency operations. A Mali military spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment on the HRW report.
“Abuses by armed Islamist groups is no justification at all for the military’s deliberate slaughter of people in custody,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity, the worst in Mali in a decade, whether carried about by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers.”
After the reports of alleged atrocities in Moura, Mali’s army said last week that from 23-31 March it killed 203 Islamist militants and detained a further 51 following intelligence reports about a meeting between rebel groups. It added that it would investigate any allegations of rights abuses.
Mali, an impoverished country of nearly 21 million people, is governed by a junta that seized power in a coup in August 2020, promising to restore civilian rule. The country is under sanctions from the west Africa bloc Ecowas for ignoring an earlier commitment to hold elections in February this year.
Swathes of Mali lie outside government control, owing to a brutal jihadist conflict that started in 2012 and has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Germany’s foreign ministry urged Mali to hold an independent investigation into the reports of civilian deaths. “Mali’s general staff mentioned no civilian victims in its report of the operation,” the German Foreign Office said. “That is contradicted by possible witness statements that mention targeted killing of civilians.”
There has been a sharp rise in killings of civilians and terror suspects in Mali since late December, both by jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State, and by Malian security forces. HRW said at least 107 civilians have been killed, and that 71 of the deaths could be linked to Malian-aligned forces.
Mali’s military leadership has forged closer links with Russia after its relations soured with the west – in particular with France, its former ally and colonial-era ruler, which has committed to scaling down its forces in the Sahel.
The Malian government is battling the insurgency with the help of private military contractors from Russia’s Wagner group. Mali and Russia have previously said they are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia. (Source: The Guardian)