A militant group in Mali on Monday claimed to have seized a member of the Kremlin-linked Wagner mercenary force, which is said to be fighting extremists in the West African country.
“In the first week of April, (we) captured a soldier of the Russian Wagner forces in the Segou region in central Mali,” the GSIM (the Group to Support Islam and Muslims) said.
The GSIM, an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation and the Sahel’s largest terrorist network, has announced the capture of a Wagner group fighter for the first time.
Russian paramilitaries in Mali, according to the US, France, and others, are operators from the private security business Wagner, which has already been accused of abuses in the Central African Republic.
The accusations have been refuted by Mali’s military-dominated government, which claims that the Russians in the nation are military instructors.
The GSIM statement said that “these murderous forces participated with the Malian army in an airdrop operation on a market in the village of Moura, where they confronted several mujahideen before encircling this locality for five days and killing hundreds of innocent civilians”.
The Russian mercenaries also carried out “two parachute operations” in central Mali, added the jihadist group, which said its fighters had confiscated weapons “from the mercenaries who fled”.
Due to the deadly conflict, which began in 2012 and expanded to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, large swaths of Mali are out of government control.
After a decade-long war against Islamists, France, which intervened in Mali in 2013, decided in February to remove its military from the country. A military junta, which seized power in a coup in 2020, governs the Sahel region.
The junta vowed to restore civilian government at first, but it failed to follow through on an earlier promise to the West African body ECOWAS to hold elections in February this year, provoking regional sanctions.
The military-led administration in Bamako claims to have “neutralized” 203 militants in the central village of Moura last month, but witnesses questioned by the media and Human Rights Watch allege hundreds of civilians were murdered.
The UN’s MINUSMA troops has been pleading with Malian authorities for permission to visit Moura to investigate the events, but to no avail.
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