Malian and suspected Russian soldiers executed 300 civilians in March, says Human Rights Watch

Malian soldiers associated with foreign fighters believed to be Russian summarily executed 300 civilians, some suspected of being jihadistsat the end of March in a town in the center of paycomplaint human rights monitor (HRW).

In a report published this Tuesday, the NGO describes a massacre perpetrated over several days between March 27 and 31 in the town of Moura, between Mopti and Djenné, in a region that is one of the main sources of violence. sahelian.

Faced with the proliferation of testimonies collected by the press, the Malian General Staff spoke out on Tuesday night in a press release about “unfounded accusations” aimed at “tarnishing the image” of the armed forces. Without referring specifically to HRW, he reiterated that respect for rights is “a priority in conducting operations” and called for “moderation against defamatory speculation.”

“The worst episode of atrocities” in Mali since 2012

The military-dominated authorities that took power by force in 2020 had already given their version of events on Friday, speaking of an operation that had allowed kill 203 members of “armed terrorist groups” and arrest another 51.

But the UN Mission in Mali, the United States, the European Union and France have all raised concerns about Moura’s reports. The events in Moura are “the worst episode of atrocities” committed since the violence broke out in Mali in 2012, says HRW, citing 27 people informed of the events, including 19 survivors and witnesses.

“The Malian government must urgently and impartially open an investigation into these mass killings, including the role of foreign soldiers,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at HRW. For the credibility of these investigations, the authorities must be assisted by the African Union and the United Nations, she believes.

Some soldiers would be Russian.

The events in Moura began on March 27 with the arrival of soldiers in helicopters in the middle of the cattle market, says HRW. Soldiers then allegedly exchanged fire with some 30 armed Islamists in the crowd; According to reports, several Islamists, some civilians and two foreign soldiers were killed.

With reinforcements transported in helicopters, Malian and foreign soldiers took control of Moura, according to witnesses quoted by HRW. White-skinned foreigners are assimilated to russians because they don’t speak French and there has been a lot of talk in the media, including from the authorities, about the arrival of Russian soldiers in recent months to help fight the jihadists.

Soldiers reportedly combed the town, “executing” several people and capturing hundreds more. In the days that followed, dozens of captives were allegedly shot and executed in small groups, perhaps because of their clothing or because they wore beards according to the rules established by the jihadists, or because of their ethnic origin.

“Deliberately killing or ill-treating a person in custody is a war crime,” says HRW. Civilians were forced to dig mass graves before being executed, according to HRW. Some remains were burned to the point of being unrecognizable, adds the NGO.

“Classification” and identification of “terrorists”

In the press release published Tuesday night, the staff indicates that the army attacked a group of “terrorists” who were opposed by violent combat. Once control of Moura was secured, the military carried out “triage” and identified “terrorists” hiding among the population, he said.

Staff are content to mention deaths in the army ranks without further details. It does not mention foreign soldiers. But it reports that the operation involved four special forces groups and three Mi-17 (Soviet-designed) transport helicopters and two Mi-35 (Russian-made) combat helicopters, as well as surveillance drones.

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