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The Malian Army and alleged Russian mercenaries kill 300 civilians in the center of the country, according to HRW | International

A German Minusma soldier searches for artisanal mines on a Malian road in 2018.
A German Minusma soldier searches for artisanal mines on a Malian road in 2018.SEYLLOU (AFP)

It is the worst massacre in ten years of war in the Sahel. The Malian Army and alleged Russian mercenaries murdered some 300 civilians in the town of Moura, in central Mali, between March 27 and 31, as reported by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in line with numerous testimonials on the ground. For its part, the Malian government has acknowledged having “eliminated” 203 jihadist combatants during an anti-terrorist operation in an area controlled by the radicals, although many testimonies assure that among the deceased there were a large number of unarmed civilians who had no relation with armed groups.

The events unfolded on March 27 around ten in the morning, when at least four helicopters began firing at a supposed group of jihadists who were in the animal market in the town of Moura, where they used to go in search of food. Once on land, soldiers from the Malian Army and a hundred Russian instructors, presumably members of the Wagner company, surrounded the town of Moura and, according to the testimonies in the complaint, proceeded to summarily execute hundreds of people for four days. , most of them from the Peul ethnic group who are frequently accused of complicity with the jihadists. Dozens of bodies were found shot in the head and many of them were burned or buried in mass graves, Moura residents told Human Rights Watch.

A witness told HRW that “some of those killed were real jihadists, but many others were executed only because they were forced by the jihadists to wear their short pants or long beards.” Other sources explained that “the soldiers seemed to target the Peul and let the others go.” Witnesses say that white soldiers “who spoke a strange language” participated in this military operation. Russian instructors allegedly linked to Wagner have collaborated with the Malian Army in anti-terrorist operations in central Mali since the end of 2021.

The United Nations, the European Union, France and the United States have shown their concern over the events in Moura. The UN mission for the stabilization of Mali (Minusma) has announced the opening of an investigation to clarify what happened, while Charles Michel, president of the European Council, assured that “light must be shed on the conditions of anti-terrorist operations in the last few weeks in Mali. The testimonies of the death of hundreds of people are disturbing. The fight against terrorism cannot be done at the expense of respect for human rights”.

Testimonies about massacres committed by the Malian Armed Forces in collaboration with Russian instructors, allegedly members of the private company Wagner, have proliferated in recent months in a context of the withdrawal of the French Barkhane operation from the country. Massacres of civilians committed in Nampala, Dogofry and Diabaly in recent weeks also point to a responsibility of the Malian Army, which continues to receive training by the European Union through the EUTM training mission, in which half a thousand Spanish soldiers participate.

“The fight against terrorism can in no way justify massive violations of human rights. The exemplary behavior of the State and its security forces, whose main mandate is to protect the civilian population, should not suffer any exception. Impunity must be combated severely and with the utmost urgency”, assured Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign and Security Policy, after learning of these massacres, which he described as “very worrying”.

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Corinne Dufka, director for the Sahel of HRW, has called for the opening of an urgent and impartial investigation to find out what happened and define the responsibilities, “including the participation of foreign soldiers.” In her opinion, the African Union and the United Nations should participate in this investigation.

The military junta that has governed Mali since 2020 has reinforced its military agreements with Russia, including the deployment of mercenaries from the private company Wagner, as many Western countries have denounced. Soldiers from this company have carried out numerous human rights violations in countries such as the Central African Republic, Libya or Syria in recent years. At the same time, the French operation Barkhane, which has reached 5,500 Gallic soldiers in the Sahel, has begun its withdrawal from Mali in a process that has been accelerated by the landing of Russian instructors.

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