At least 50 civilians were killed and hundreds arrested in central Mali in April during an operation by the army and “foreign” personnel, the UN’s peacekeeping mission said Wednesday.
There was no immediate response from Mali’s authorities to the allegations, just the latest against Malian soldiers now backed by Russia in their battle against jihadists.
The incident happened on April 19 when Malian troops “accompanied by foreign military personnel” carried out a sweep in Hombori after one of their convoys was attacked by a roadside bomb, MINUSMA said.
“At least 50 civilians (including a woman and a child) were killed and more than 500 others arrested,” it said in a quarterly report on violence and rights abuses.
The report did not specify who the foreign fighters were.
But several sources at the time said a “Russian advisor” deployed with the Malian forces had been killed in the roadside blast.
Mali’s ruling junta, which has been in power since 2020, has brought in Russian operatives it describes as military trainers.
Western countries describe them as mercenaries from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.
Their presence was a key factor in France’s decision to withdraw its troops from Mali — a former colony it has supported in a decade-long fight against a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The last French soldier in Mali under the long-running Barkhane anti-jihadist mission left the country on August 15.
The Malian army on April 22 said it had conducted a major security sweep in the Hombori area after the attack three days earlier. It said it had killed 18 “attackers” and detained 611 people.
Most were freed, but among a few dozen kept in detention, two died from torture, MINUSMA said.
On April 24, a soldier appeared to have “summarily killed” 20 other detainees at the Malian army camp in Hombori, the peacekeeping force said.
The allegations come after France on April 19 left the Gossi military base, which lies northeast of Hombori, and handed it back to the Malian authorities.
Two days later, drone footage began circulating on social media, showing what appeared to be Caucasian soldiers covering bodies with sand near the Gossi base.
The French army said it had filmed Russian mercenaries burying bodies near the base to falsely accuse France’s departing forces of leaving behind mass graves.
MINUSMA said it had opened an inquiry.
It said the bodies buried in Gossi had been brought there on April 20, the day after the French withdrew, and had come from Hombori.
The MINUSMA report said 96 civilians lost their lives during operations by Malian security forces in the three months between April 1 and June 30, while seven disappeared and 19 were injured.
A report by experts for the United Nations, seen by AFP in early August, said “white-skinned soldiers” accompanied Malian troops at the scene of killings in March in the Segou region near the Mauritanian border, in which 33 civilians died.
In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said about 300 people, most of them ethnic Fulanis, were killed in Moura in central Mali in March by Malian forces “or associated foreign fighters” — a veiled reference to suspected Russian operatives.
Mali’s army says that it killed 203 militants at Moura.