Malian army cracks down on militia as election looms

The Malian army is cracking down on a militia in the country's troubled centre in a bid to quell communal violence ahead of a July 29 presidential election, sources said.

The Dana Amassagou, a militia which groups traditional Dogon hunters, has said it will stop the vote from being held in parts of central Mali, where it emerged several months ago.

Violence has increased in the past three years in central Mali between nomadic Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers over accusations the Fulanis were colluding with jihadists.

"On Saturday, we intervened in the centre, in Kanou-Bombole, to ensure the security of locals," a Malian security source told AFP.

The militia said in a statement a group of soldiers arrived at a gathering and tried to confiscate weapons.

"When we refused, they burned our motorbikes, over 300 motorbikes, and started shooting at us," Dana Amassagou said, adding: "There was no loss of human life."

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"Facing this situation, we have decided to drive state representatives out of Dogon country. We do not want the state's presence anymore, which means no voting," the group said.

Campaigning for the presidential election started on Saturday.

The army intervention was however praised by the Fulani, who say it faces abuses in the fight against jihadists. The government denies this.

"The army has showed no one is above the law. It is a good sign, but more needs to be done," said Ismail Cisse, who heads Tabital Pulaaku, Mali's main Fulani group.

While the army banned motorbikes and pick-ups in much of central and northern Mali, Fulani groups say hunters can regularly be seen patrolling on motorbikes undisturbed.

Rights group Human Rights Watch documented the "apparent lack of impartial application of the ban on motorbikes," Corinne Dufka, its West Africa director, told AFP.

Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.

The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of Malian, French and the UN forces, which are frequent targets of attacks.

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