- Witnesses say the whites in the massacre spoke Russian
- Russia’s Wagner group recently joined Mali forces
- The UN has accused Wagner of abuse elsewhere in Africa
- Western powers are worried that Mali could be further destabilized
Bamako, April 14 (Reuters) – Witnesses say Malian troops backed by white mercenaries in helicopters opened fire on stunned people on market day in the central Mali city of Maura.
On the morning of March 27, stall-owner Amatov said soldiers saw fans across the city and ran home. A few hours later they arrested him and took him to a riverbank on the outskirts of the city, where thousands of men sat with their hands clasped.
Over the next four days, Amadu and two other witnesses told Reuters that those in the sun, with little to no food or water, noticed that the soldiers were gradually escorting the crew to the lip of a mass grave and shooting them.
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“It was unimaginable,” he said, overcoming fatigue and emotion. “Come, gather 15, 20 people and line up. Kneel down and shoot.”
The Witnesses presented their accounts in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
They said most of the soldiers who killed civilians were Malians. But dozens of whites in military exhaustion spoke out believing they were Russians, saying they were actively involved. French is widely spoken in Mali, but government officials and whites communicated in sign language because they did not speak the same language.
Four observers reported that whites first landed from helicopters and opened fire on fleeing residents.
Reuters has not been able to independently verify or visit the accounts of Moura, a city of 10,000 people controlled by an Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
The Malian army says it has killed 203 militants during a military operation in Maura. It denies the execution reports and did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Wagner, a Russian private military contracting company that recently began working with the Malian army, could not be reached for comment. read more
But witness accounts reinforced evidence gathered by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which blamed Malian soldiers with the help of Russians suspected of killing about 300 civilians in Maura last week. read more
Reports have raised concerns that Wagner’s presence could further destabilize the arid and impoverished country of Mali, home to Islamic State and Al Qaeda – linked groups that have killed thousands in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Western powers vehemently opposed Wagner’s intervention, warning that it would provoke violence. The United Nations has accused it of killing civilians while working in the Central African Republic. Russian officials have denied reports of abuse.
The European Union (EU) has imposed sanctions on a group acting on behalf of the Kremlin. Moscow denies ties. read more
Built like animals
Residents say Moura, in the floodplain of the Niger River, has been out of government control for years.
The militants impose Sharia law and their own tax system. Men are forced to cut their trousers short and keep their beards long. They come to town to buy food, but residents say they live in the bush.
They told Reuters that some came to market on March 27th. Human Rights Watch reports that soldiers clashed with armed militants in the city that day.
On the riverbank, soldiers examined men’s trigger fingers and shoulders for signs of gunfire or carrying guns, Amadu said.
They have tied us up like animals.
Witnesses said the soldiers seemed to select men for execution based on their race and dress.
Witnesses said Fulani shepherds, some of whom were known to have joined Islamic groups, had been isolated. Members of the Bobo and Bella groups were ordered to dig graves.
A soldier with a beard and torn trousers asked if he could urinate. When he said no, the soldier ordered him to stand up, a witness said, asking that he remain anonymous.
“The soldier shot him in the back, then approached him and shot him twice in the head.”
Four days later the white troops departed, but the Malian soldiers stayed for a while. One apologized for the killings and gave a speech, Amado and two other witnesses said.
Human Rights Watch called the incident “the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decades of armed conflict.”
Despite the UN denying access to Maura, Mali’s military police, like the United Nations, have launched an investigation.
On April 5, the Malian military denied the allegations and said it had launched a “professional operation” to target Islamist militants in the city.
“Total control of the local area is allowed to search, identify and deploy terrorists disguised as civilians,” the military said in a statement.
Both Mali and the Kremlin, who ruled in the 2021 military coup, have previously claimed that Russian forces were not mercenaries but trainers to assist local troops with equipment purchased from Russia.
France, Mali’s former colonial state, has had thousands of troops fighting the country’s militias for nearly a decade, but is leaving due to a rift in relations with the military government, including the arrival of Russian contractors.
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Paul Large’s report; Written by Nelly Beyton and Edward McAllister, edited by Angus Maxwan
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