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Mali, foreign forces executed hundreds in recent days: rights group

Mali’s armed forces, reportedly along with some Russian troops, executed hundreds of people last month in the Malian town of Moura, marking the worst atrocity the country has seen in a decade, a rights group said in a Tuesday report. 

The Malian defense ministry said the forces had killed 203 “terrorists” between March 23 and March 31 based on intelligence that the suspected Islamist fighters were “meeting with different [battalions],” according to Human Rights Watch.

Witnesses have provided different numbers of exactly how many people were killed, though reports indicate upward of 200 executions. 

“Abuses by armed Islamist groups is no justification at all for the military’s deliberate slaughter of people in custody,” Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch’s West Africa director, said in the report.

The rights group’s investigations found that the executed men had been detained as part of a military operation on March 27. On that day, soldiers arrived via helicopter and exchanged gunfire with armed Islamist fights near Moura’s animal market.

Then, between March 27 and March 31, the soldiers ordered groups of four to 10 detained men to walk before summarily executing them.  

Human Rights Watch added that multiple sources said at least 100 Russian troops and many other Malian soldiers were involved in the operation. 

One resident told Human Rights Watch “the sound of gunfire rang out in our village from Monday to Thursday.”

“The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity, the worst in Mali in a decade, whether carried about by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers,” Dufka added.

Villagers told the rights group that Moura has been under the quasi-control of Islamist fighters connected to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. 

Those fighters “regularly imposed taxes (zakat) on villagers, threatened civilians refusing to adhere to their strict behavioral code, and imposed Sharia (Islamic law) in courts that did not adhere to fair trial standards,” the group’s report said.

Mali has long been the site of unrest and political crises, but the situation worsened in 2020 as Islamist groups, ethnic militias and government security forces carried out more abuses in the country.

In August of that year, the country’s government was overthrown in a military coup.

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