France on Tuesday ordered a probe into accusations of mass executions in central Mali allegedly carried out by the Malian army and mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group.
According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, members of the Malian military forces, aided by Russian mercenaries, allegedly killed hundreds of civilians in the village of Moura.
Mali’s military announced on April 1 that 203 fighters were killed in a large-scale air and land operation in Moura from March 23 to 31, which it described as a “stronghold of terrorists for several years.”
Unlike the French announcement, the Malian military forces made no mention of the Wagner Group’s involvement in the operation, which took place 400 kilometres northeast of Bamako.
The United States also raised alarm over human rights breaches, citing claims that the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group and the Malian Armed Forces targeted members of known violent extremist groups.
According to a report by Radio France International (RFI), local residents testified that Wagner mercenaries were deployed in “quite large numbers” and even outnumbered the Malian military in the operation.
National authorities and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have been urged to launch investigations to “establish accountability for these actions and bring their perpetrators to justice,” according to the ministry.
Since the beginning of this year, France claims there has been an increase in episodes of impunity violence in central Mali. “The struggle against terrorist groups operating in the Sahel in no way excuses human rights crimes.” The use of indiscriminate violence against civilians only strengthens terrorist groups, according to the statement.
Last year, France and other European governments condemned Mali’s decision to deploy the Wagner Group, calling for European military forces to leave the country.
Under Operation Barkhane, France has deployed about 5000 military forces across the Sahel area countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to combat extremist organisations since 2014.
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