Human Rights Watch deplored the summary execution by Malian soldiers linked to presumed Russian foreign fighters of 300 civilians, some of them suspected jihadists, at the end of March in a central region.
In a report published on Tuesday, the NGO described a massacre that took place over several days between 27 and 31 March in Mora locality, between Mopti and Djenni, in an area that is one of the main centers of violence in the Sahel.
In the face of the multiplication of testimonies circulated in the press, the Finance General Staff spoke Tuesday evening in a press release about “baseless allegations” aimed at “discrediting” the armed forces. Without specifically referring to Human Rights Watch, he reiterated that respect for rights was a “priority in (operations) management” and called for “restraint against defamatory speculation.”
The military-dominated authorities who seized power by force in 2020 had already given their version of events on Friday, speaking of an operation that resulted in the killing of 203 members of “armed terrorist groups” and the arrest of 51 others.
But the UN mission in Mali, the United States, the European Union and France have expressed concern about the reports from Mora.
The events in Mora are the “worst incident of atrocities” committed since the violence erupted in Mali in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch, which cites 27 people with knowledge of the events, including 19 survivors and witnesses.
Human Rights Watch calls for investigation
“The Malian government must open an urgent and impartial investigation into these mass killings, including the role of foreign soldiers,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel region director at Human Rights Watch. It believes that for the credibility of these investigations, the authorities must be assisted by the African Union and the United Nations.
Mora’s events began on March 27 as soldiers arrived in helicopters in the middle of a cattle market, Human Rights Watch reports. It was alleged that the soldiers then exchanged fire with about thirty Islamic militants who were in the crowd; Several Islamists, a few civilians, and two foreign soldiers were reportedly killed.
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Mora is described as a former locality that, like many other areas in Mali, is under the control of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Human Rights Watch quoted eyewitnesses as saying that reinforcements transported by helicopters had captured Mora, and Malian and foreign soldiers.
White foreigners are assimilated into Russians because they do not speak French and there has been a lot of talk in the media, including from the authorities, about the arrival of Russian soldiers in recent months to help fight the jihadists.
Intentional killing or mistreatment of an individual in custody is a war crime.
Soldiers reportedly combed the city and “executed” a number of people and arrested hundreds more. In the following days, they allegedly shot and executed dozens of captives in small groups, perhaps on the basis of their dress or because they wore beards according to rules established by the jihadists, or because of their ethnicity. Human Rights Watch says that the “vast majority” of the men, executed by Malian and white soldiers, were Fulani, a group from which the jihadists largely recruited. “Deliberate killing or ill-treatment of any individual in custody is a war crime,” Human Rights Watch says.
According to Human Rights Watch, civilians were forced to dig mass graves before being executed. Human Rights Watch added that some of the remains were cremated beyond recognition.
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In a press release published on Tuesday evening, the crew indicated that the army had attacked a group of “terrorists” who had opposed heavy fighting with them. Once the control of Mora was assured, he said, the soldiers conducted a “screening” and identified the “terrorists” hiding among the population.
The crew is satisfied with mentioning the dead in the ranks of the army, without further details. No mention of foreign soldiers. But he reported that the operation engaged four groups of special forces, three Mi-17 (Soviet-designed) transport helicopters and two Mi-35 (Russian-made) combat helicopters, as well as reconnaissance drones.