Russian mercenaries and Malian soldiers accused of killing 300 civilians

Russian mercenaries and Malian soldiers were accused of killing hundreds of men in a town in central Mali last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Although witnesses said some of the victims in the town of Moura were Islamic jihadists, they suggested that most of those who died were civilians.

Testifying, survivors told HRW that a helicopter carrying soldiers landed near the Moura animal market on the morning of March 27. Troops opened fire on 30 armed jihadists before reinforcements arrived and blocked escape routes from the settlement, they said.

These forces then reportedly rounded up hundreds of unarmed men from the market and their homes. The prisoners were taken out of town and forced to lie in the sun, HRW reported.

Hundreds of captives were murdered over the next four days, according to survivors, with town elders corroborating the figure.

On April 1, Mali’s defense ministry said its soldiers had killed 203 “terrorists” in the last week of March, following a recent spike in jihadist attacks in the country.

Although it is unclear why some Moura captives were killed and others spared, some witnesses said ethnic Fulani or Fulani were targeted. Armed Islamist groups are known to have attempted to recruit individuals from this group, exploiting their grievances with the government.

“The soldiers seemed to target the Fulani and let the others go,” said a villager.

Another man, who was held captive, said he heard nine men being executed on March 28 and 13 more the following day, while a shopkeeper said he saw two of his brothers shot.

“They took them several meters away and executed them at close range. Over the next few days I saw others – in groups of two or three – killed in the same way… 19 in total,” the trader said.

Reacting to the alleged massacre, Corinne Dufka, HRW’s director for the Sahel, said: “The abuses committed by armed Islamist groups in no way justify the deliberate massacre by the army of people in detention”, adding: “The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity, the worst in Mali in a decade, whether transported by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers.

Ms Dufka urged the Malian government to investigate the deaths, seeking help from the African Union and the United Nations to ensure impartiality.

Vicky Ford, Britain’s Africa minister, who said she was “horrified” by the reports, echoed the call for an independent inquiry.

“The allegations of civilian deaths require an urgent, transparent and impartial investigation, in order to bring to justice those responsible for any violation and abuse of human rights,” said the British minister.

Last month, the EU suspended the training of Malian troops over concerns over the alleged arrival of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group, in Mali.

“Obviously, our training mission can in no way be involved in activities that could jeopardize the reputation of the European Union,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the time.

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