UN experts: Malian military and ‘white’ soldiers killed 33

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — UN experts say in a new report that Malian armed forces allegedly carried out an operation with “white-skinned soldiers” near the border with Mauritania in March, shooting and burning at least 33 civilians. in one of several operations where the country’s ruling army appeared to be working closely with would-be Russian mercenaries.

In the first three months of this year, they said 543 civilians were killed and 269 wounded, according to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.

In the grim and comprehensive report obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the think tank said the political situation remains tense and warned that the 2015 peace deal between the Malian government and non-extremist armed independence groups “is under threat.” for a potential risk of confrontation between the parties for the first time since July 2017.”

They said 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, a sharp increase from 5.9 million last year, including 1.9 million people facing the threat of “acute malnutrition” during the current lean season that lasts until August.

Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in cities in northern Mali with the help of a French-led military operation, but regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks against the Malian army and its allies. . Insecurity has worsened with attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers.

In August 2020, Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita, who died in January, was ousted in a coup that included Assimi Goita, then an army colonel. Last June, Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months and reportedly decided later in the year to allow the Wagner group to deploy from Russia.

Wagner is posing as a private military contractor, but his alleged commitment to Russian interests has become apparent in Ukraine, where his mercenaries are among Russian forces currently fighting in breakaway regions in the east of the country. In sub-Saharan Africa, Wagner has won substantial footholds for Russia in the Central African Republic and Sudan, as well as in Mali, where analysts said his role goes beyond simply providing security services.

The UN experts’ 78-page report does not mention Wagner in relation to any incidents, but describes several operations in which white soldiers joined Malian forces, including one on March 5 in the town of Robinet El Ataye. in the Segou region. near the border with Mauritania.

According to the testimonies of the experts, a group of “white-skinned soldiers” arrived in the town, which has a water well frequented by Mauritanians who cross the border in search of pasture for their cattle, rounded up the men and children, tied their hands behind their backs and blindfolded them. The women and children were told to go home and the soldiers who reportedly stripped the houses of “all their belongings, including bedding, cell phones, jewelry, kitchen utensils and clothing”, they said.

Later in the morning, the panel said, Malian soldiers who arrived in the village began beating the bound and blindfolded men “with heavy sticks used by the herders of their flocks.”

The women heard screams, but soldiers prevented them from leaving their homes, and Malian forces freed some younger men and took at least 33 men, 29 Mauritanians and four Tuareg ethnic Malians, he said.

The women waited for the men to return, but the panel said relatives notified them a day later that the men’s bodies had been found about 4 kilometers away, and that “they had been shot and then burned,” experts said. .

The panel said “a similar pattern of looting and beatings” occurred in five other places, but the only place where civilians were killed was in Robinet El Ataye.

“In two other places visited by the Malian Armed Forces, a helicopter carrying ‘white-skinned soldiers’ reportedly landed at the start of operations,” he said.

On the political front, experts said the 2015 peace deal is stalled, none of the political and institutional reforms in the deal have been finalized, a high-level decision-making meeting on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration quotas for combatants initially scheduled for February 9 September 2021 has not yet taken place and there is “a perceptible lack of trust between the government and the signatory armed groups”.

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