DAKAR, Senegal — French, American and European officers have expressed severe considerations about allegations that a whole lot of folks had been killed final week in a city in the West African nation of Mali by Malian troopers accompanied by Russian mercenaries on a marketing campaign to battle insurgents.
Although the accounts are nonetheless unclear, human rights organizations, safety analysts and Malian civil society teams mentioned that between 200 and 400 folks had been killed in the city, Moura — and that authorities troops and Russian fighters might need been accountable.
Human Rights Watch described it as “the worst atrocity in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict.” Hundreds extra had been reportedly killed final month by Islamist insurgents, based on the group.
Mali’s armed forces have battled Islamist extremists and different violent teams for the previous decade in the Sahel area, an arid strip of land simply south of the Sahara, the place a whole lot of civilians have been killed and a whole lot of hundreds extra have been displaced.
French forces fought for 9 years alongside Malian forces in the West African nation, however France introduced earlier this yr that it was ending its counterterrorism operation, generally known as Barkhane, amid souring relations with the Malian navy junta that seized energy in a coup in May.
Western officers say that Malian safety forces have since employed Russian mercenaries with the Wagner Group, a non-public navy firm, however each Malian and Russian officers deny that. However, French diplomatic and navy sources, who couldn’t be recognized as a result of of the sensitivity of the scenario, say that about 1,000 Russian mercenaries at the moment are posted in Mali.
The stories of a bloodbath got here from Moura, a city of about 10,000 folks in the nation’s central area, the place authorities officers mentioned dozens of insurgents had gathered. On Saturday, Malian officers mentioned in a statement that they’d killed 203 “fighters of terrorist armed groups” in Moura. The assertion made no point out of civilian or navy casualties.
But the West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Corinne Dufka, who spoke to greater than 15 city residents of the city, mentioned that helicopters attacked Moura on March 27, a Sunday when a whole lot of folks had gathered for its weekly livestock market.
Ms. Dufka mentioned that the Malian forces had been supported by overseas troopers who had been recognized by a number of sources as Russians. Malian forces and Russian mercenaries held the village beneath siege for 4 days, she mentioned.
Soldiers opened hearth on folks in the market, mentioned Ms. Dufka, and took some of them to an space outdoors Moura, the place they detained them for 4 days whereas looking out the city.
Several witnesses instructed Ms. Dufka that each Malian and overseas forces had executed many males. The our bodies of some of them had been later burned, she added.
Reached by cellphone, Colonel Souleymane Dembélé, the top of the Malian armed forces’ communication unit, mentioned that he had “no reaction” to the allegations.
Ms. Dufka mentioned that on the time of the assault jihadist fighters had been current in the village, which is in an space that could be a stronghold of an affiliate of Al Qaeda generally known as the Macina Liberation Front.
But she added, “Executing civilians and suspects in the name of security is as unlawful as it is counterproductive. It is driving recruitment into abusive groups, stoking intercommunal tension, and undermining trust in the state.”
France’s overseas ministry mentioned in an announcement on Monday that it was “gravely concerned” by stories of “massive abuses” in Moura.
The U.S. State Department referred to the occasion as a “reported massacre.” Ned Price, a division spokesman, mentioned on Sunday in an announcement, “We are concerned that many reports suggest that the perpetrators were unaccountable forces from the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group.”
On Monday, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s high diplomat, urged the Malian authorities to grant the United Nations Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA, entry to the positioning of the killings. The mission has a base in Mopti, about 30 miles from Moura. But entry to Moura is proscribed, mentioned Myriam Dessables, a mission spokeswoman.
“It is a flooded area with restricted and difficult access and with a proven presence of violent extremist groups,” she mentioned.
At least 71 civilians had been killed by the Malian armed forces between December 2021 and final month, based on Humans Rights Watch, and in a number of situations witnesses mentioned they’d been accompanied by “white soldiers” talking an unknown language. Analysts and Western officers have recognized these troopers as belonging to the Wagner group.
Yvan Guichaoua, a senior lecturer on worldwide battle on the University of Kent who specializes in the Sahel area, mentioned that Malian forces had an extended historical past of abuses, even earlier than the navy junta toppled civilian leaders in the 2 coups in 2020 and 2021. He mentioned that navy abuses fell in the second half of final yr, however elevated this yr.
“That uptick coincides with the arrival of Russian forces,” Mr. Guichaoua mentioned. “The frequency and the scale of these attacks are unprecedented.”
A reporter for The New York Times contributed reporting from Mali.