June 6, 2020 / 7:25 PM / 2 months ago

Men in military fatigues kill at least 20 Malian villagers

BAMAKO, June 6 (Reuters) - Armed men dressed in military fatigues attacked a village of Fulani herders in central Mali, killing at least 20 people, a local government official and a Fulani association said on Saturday.

The attackers on Friday targeted the village of Binedama in the Mopti region, which has seen dozens of tit-for-tat ethnic massacres over the past few years.

The Fulani, semi-nomadic herders present across West Africa, have been accused by rival farming communities of supporting local jihadist groups, making them targets of violence from ethnic vigilante militias and sometimes government forces.

Moulaye Guindo, the mayor of the commune of Bankass, which neighbours the commune to which Binedama belongs, said between 20 and 30 people were killed by men in military attire.

Fulani association Tabital Pulaaku said 29 people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl. It blamed the attack on Malian soldiers, who it said surrounded the village in pick-up trucks before killing the villagers and setting houses on fire.

“The victims are all from the peaceful civilian population .. who had not committed any crime except for their ethnic identity,” Tabital Pulaaku said in a statement.

Mali’s army spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Human rights groups have accused the Malian military in the past of conducting extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture and arbitrary arrests against suspected jihadist sympathisers - charges it has promised to investigate.

In 2018, the government said some of its soldiers were implicated in “gross violations” after the discovery of mass graves in the centre of the country.

Mali has been in crisis since 2012 when al Qaeda-linked militants seized its desert north. French forces intervened the following year to drive them back, but the militants have since regrouped and extended their operations into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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