US to complete withdrawal from Niger’s air base on Sunday

Malian army and Russian mercenaries accused of killing dozens of civilians in Kidal region

BAMAKO, Mali: Mali’s army and Russian mercenaries killed dozens of civilians during a military operation last month in northern Mali, civil organizations and community members claimed Friday, amid a wave of violence after the ruling junta broke a deal of peace with rebel groups.
The killings took place between June 20 and 29 in Abeibara in the Kidal region, civil society groups and residents said. The Malian military says it has no knowledge of the alleged killings, but says military operations are taking place across the country.
The region is a former stronghold of a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg militants fighting the army in a conflict in which civilians have increasingly become the main victims. Some of the militants were previously allied with Al-Qaeda.
Hamadine Driss Ag Mohamed, the son of Abeibara’s village chief, told The Associated Press on Friday that Malian soldiers and fighters from the Russian Wagner mercenary group had killed 46 civilians.
“Malian soldiers and Wagner executed old men and shepherds and stole everything they found in the camps, such as money and valuable jewelry,” he said.
Mali and its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger have long battled insurgencies by armed groups, including many allied with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh).
Following coups in all three nations in recent years, the ruling junta have expelled French forces and sought military aid instead from Russian mercenary units such as the private security company Wagner and its likely successor, Africa Corps.
In December 2023, a United Nations peacekeeping force created 10 years earlier and aimed at stabilizing Mali after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 withdrew from the country at the request of the junta, which called the mission a failure.
Following last month’s violence in Abeibara, images of lifeless bodies and incinerated campsites circulated on social media for several days. The Associated Press was unable to verify them.
The Citizen Observatory for the Monitoring and Defense of the Human Rights of the Azawad People, a civil society organization also known as Kal akal, said in a statement on Friday that at least 60 civilians were killed in the Abeibara area and buried in pits common.
The group denounced “a vast campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Russians of the Wagner group, in the company of the Malian army.”
A spokesman for the Malian army, Major Colonel Souleymane Dembélé, said the army was unaware of the alleged killings. “It is true that there are ongoing military operations throughout the national territory,” Dembélé told the AP by phone. “But I have no information about those allegations.”
More than a decade of instability followed the Tuareg rebellion, although in 2015 Tuareg rebel groups signed a peace deal with the government that was welcomed by the United Nations.
But following the 2020 coup, Mali’s junta broke the peace deal with Tuareg rebel groups and attacked their stronghold of Kidal in 2023. Since then, Kidal has been plagued by violence, particularly against civilians.

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