Human rights group Amnesty International has disclosed that Islamic terrorist groups in West Africa’s Sahel region use weapons originating in Europe – particularly those made in Serbia.
According to Amnesty, the illegal weapons are also used by pro-government militias in the region, including Dan na Ambassagou in Mali and the VDP in Burkina Faso.
A study published on Tuesday found that groups regularly obtain these weapons from national armies during attacks on military barracks and from soldiers killed in combat.
Amnesty International says it has analysed more than 400 photos and videos disseminated by the Sahelian branch of Islamic Group and by al-Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) on social media between January 2018 and May 2021.
“The imagery shows weapons stockpiles and fighters from various armed groups and state auxiliaries, including ISGS, JNIM, Dozos, Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), Koglweogo, and Dan na Ambassagou, in both Mali and Burkina Faso,” the rights group said in a statement.
It says most of the weapons on display are old Soviet-era Kalashnikovs, and in 12 cases, it has identified newer weapons (M70AB2, M92 and M05 machine guns) used by fighters and made by a Serbian company, Zastava.
“These include M02 Coyote heavy machine guns, and M92 and M05 series rifles, including the most up to date M05E3 models which were not available before fighting began in northern Mali in 2011,” added Amnesty.
The organisation points out that France, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic also export arms to the Sahel.
It has called on these countries, as well as the Sahelian governments that receive these weapons, to better monitor their use.
In the Central Sahel region, the situation has become increasingly unstable with over 6,000 civilian deaths reported between 2017 and 2021 in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted that in Burkina Faso alone, more than 1.2 million people have been displaced since 2016.
In June 2021, unidentified armed men killed 130 civilians in the village of Solhan, North Burkina Faso, the worst attack on civilians seen so far in the conflict. ISGS has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks on civilians in 2021, including one on 21 March which left 137 people dead across several locations in Niger.
According to Amnesty, so-called ‘self-defence’ groups, established in opposition to JNIM and ISGS, have also carried out massacres of civilians, leading to a bloody cycle of reprisals. In March 2020, one such ‘self-defence’ group, the Koglweogo, launched a series of appalling attacks on villages in Burkina Faso which left at least 43 people dead. A month earlier, Dan na Ambassagou, an ethnic armed militia, killed 32 villagers in Ogossagou, Mali.
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