UNITED NATIONS (TSTIME) — UN experts said in a new report that Malian forces reportedly conducted an operation in March involving “white soldiers” near the border with Mauritania, shooting and burning at least 33 civilians in one of the several operations in which the country’s ruling army appeared to be working closely with suspected Russian mercenaries.
According to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, 543 civilians were killed and 269 injured in the first three months of this year.
In the stark and comprehensive report obtained Friday by The The Singapore Time, the panel of experts said the political situation remains tense and warned that the 2015 peace deal between the Malian government and non-extremist armed independence groups “is threatened by a potential risk.” of confrontation between the parties for the first time since July 2017.”
They said 12 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, a sharp increase from 5.9 million last year, including 1.9 million people who are threatened by “acute malnutrition” during the current lean season, which lasts through August. “.
Mali has struggled to contain an Islamist extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were driven from power in Mali’s northern cities using a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies. . Insecurity has been exacerbated with attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers.
In August 2020, Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita, who died in January, was overthrown in a coup involving Assimi Goita, then an army colonel. Last June, Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after committing its second coup in nine months and later in the year reportedly decided to allow the deployment of Russia’s Wagner group.
Wagner poses as a private military contractor, but his long-believed devotion to Russian interests has become apparent in Ukraine, where his mercenaries are among Russian forces currently fighting in the country’s separatist eastern regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, Wagner has gained significant foothold for Russia in the Central African Republic and Sudan, as well as in Mali, where analysts said his role goes beyond just providing security services.
The 78-page report by UN experts does not name Wagner in connection with any incidents, but describes several operations in which Malian troops were accompanied by white soldiers, including one on March 5 in the town of Robinet El Ataye in the Segou region near the border with Mauritania.
According to testimonies, the experts said a group of “white soldiers” arrived in the city, where there is a waterhole frequented by Mauritanians who cross the border in search of pasturage for cattle, men and boys herded together, their hands tied behind their backs. and blindfolded them. Women and children were told to go home and the soldiers allegedly robbed homes of “all possessions, including bedding, cell phones, jewelry, cooking utensils and clothing,” they said.
Later in the morning, the panel said, Malian soldiers who arrived in the village began beating the tied and blindfolded men “with heavy sticks used by the shepherds on their flocks.”
The women heard screams but were stopped by soldiers from their homes, and Malian troops then released some younger men and carried away at least 33 men, 29 Mauritanians and four Malians who were ethnic Tuareg.
The women waited for the men to return, but the panel said they were notified a day later by relatives that the men’s bodies had been found about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away and that they “were shot and then burned,” the experts said.
The panel said “a similar pattern of looting and beatings” took place in five other locations, but the only place where civilians were killed was at Robinet El Ataye.
“A helicopter with ‘white soldiers’ on board is said to have landed at two other locations visited by the Malian forces,” the report said.
On the political front, experts said the 2015 peace agreement has stalled, none of the political and institutional reforms in the accord have been completed, and a high-level decision-making meeting on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration quotas for fighters originally scheduled for February 9, 2021 has yet to take place and there is “a noticeable lack of trust between the government and the signatory armed groups.”