'A scene one cannot imagine': Mali slips further into turmoil as French and EU soldiers leave

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A protester holds a placard reading "France, gardener of terrorism" to celebrate Frances's announcement to withdraw French troops from Mali.
A protester holds a placard reading "France, gardener of terrorism" to celebrate Frances's announcement to withdraw French troops from Mali.
  • Since December last year, at least 107 civilians have been killed by either the army or Jihadists in Mali.
  • Withdrawal of French and European forces from a decade-long peacekeeping mission has made the security situation worse.
  • Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to investigate all reported cases.

The security situation in Mali has been deteriorating since December last year, with French and its European allies withdrawing their troops after a decade of fighting armed Islamic extremists.

Their departure was partly because of the arrival of Russian mercenary army, the Wagner Group, in the country resulting in what France called "multiple obstructions".

Mali's military government reacted by expelling French ambassador to Bamako Joël Meyer at the end of January.

Since then, it has been a conflict within a conflict as the military tries to hold onto power, defying civilian wishes, while Jihadists are increasing their foothold.

READ | Defence minister of insurgency-hit Mozambique fired

African Union (AU) Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, at a high level dialogue with United States officials on Friday last week, voiced concern about military governments' negative impact on democracy and human rights.

He singled out countries in West Africa, Mali included, as leading a "fallacious" narrative that civilians have no capacity to govern.

"... it is even making democracy sort of retreat, and if you look at West Africa, where two, three, four coup d’états have taken place. And the justification for these coup d’états, which is fallacious, that the civilian regimes are not capable of ensuring security and, therefore, the military regime can – which is, naturally, not true," he said.

Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), says since then, the situation in Mali has been dogged by "dramatic" killings.

"There has been a dramatic spike in the number of civilians, including suspects, killed by the Malian army and armed Islamist groups," she said.

READ | Multibillion-rand plan to reconstruct insurgency-hit Cabo Delgado

A new report by HRW detailing the atrocities in Mali says government forces have killed at least 71 civilians since December last year, while Islamic extremists account for 36 deaths.

"At least 71 were linked to government forces and 36 to armed Islamist groups, known as Jihadists," the report says.

'I found carnage... a scene one cannot imagine'

The victims, most allegedly summarily executed, include traders, village chiefs, religious leaders, and children.

Between January and March this year, HRW telephonically interviewed people who had first-hand accounts of some of the atrocities.

One of the interviewees quoted by HRW in its report told of how Jihadists sprayed bullets at a civilian bus killing at least 32 people.

"I found carnage... a scene one cannot imagine... most of the dead were terribly burned, making it difficult to know whether they'd perished by gunfire, or because of the fire."

The report says the government forces committed the killings during counter-terrorism operations.

"Around 2 March, soldiers allegedly extrajudicially executed at least 35 suspects whose charred bodies were discovered near Danguèrè Wotoro hamlet in Ségou region. This is the most serious allegation involving government soldiers since 2012," the report stated.

In a village called Tonou, 14 ethnic Dogon civilians were killed in what was believed to be a retaliation to the killing of two soldiers through a bomb attack.

One of the witnesses told HRW how two elderly people were taken to the site where the soldiers died, only for them to meet their own demise.

"The soldiers dragged two elders in their 80s and four others to where the mine exploded, and executed them on the spot," the witness is quoted as saying.

HRW recommended that the the defence ministry should suspend rogue elements in the army and that the state should impartially investigate all alleged abuses.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
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