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Malian army and Russian mercenaries accused of killing dozens of civilians in Kidal region

BAMAKO, Mali: Mali’s army and Russian mercenaries killed dozens of civilians in a military operation last month in northern Mali – reportedly members of civil society organizations and communities – on Friday, amid a surge in violence after the ruling junta scrapped a peace deal with rebel groups.
The killings took place between June 20 and 29 in Abeibara, Kidal region, civil society groups and residents said. The Malian military says it is unaware of the alleged killings, but says military operations are underway across the country.
The region was a former stronghold of a rebellion by militants from the Tuareg ethnic group, who are fighting the army in a conflict where civilians have increasingly become the main victims. Some of the militants were previously affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Hamadine Driss Ag Mohamed, the son of the chief of Abeibara village, told The Associated Press on Friday that Malian soldiers and fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner had killed 46 civilians.
“Mali and Wagner soldiers executed old men and shepherds and stole everything they found in the camps, such as money and valuable jewelry,” he said.
Mali and its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger have long battled insurgencies by armed groups, including many allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh).
Following military coups in all three countries in recent years, the ruling juntas have driven out French forces and instead sought military assistance from Russian mercenary units such as the private security company Wagner and its likely successor, the Africa Corps.
In December 2023, the UN peacekeeping force, created 10 years earlier to stabilize Mali after the 2012 Tuareg rebellion, withdrew from the country at the request of the junta, which described the mission as a failure.
After last month’s violence in Abeiba, images of lifeless corpses and burned campsites circulated on social media for days. The Associated Press could not verify them.
The Citizen’s Observatory for Monitoring and Defense of the Azawad People, also known as Kal akal, a civil society organization, said in a statement on Friday that at least 60 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves in the Abeibara area.
The group condemned “the massive campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Russians of the Wagner group in the company of the Malian army”.
Malian army spokesman Major Souleymane Dembélé said the army was unaware of the alleged killings. “It is true that military operations are taking place all over the country,” Dembélé told AP by phone. “But I have no information about these charges.”
More than a decade of instability followed the Tuareg rebellion, although in 2015 Tuareg rebel groups signed a peace agreement with the government that was welcomed by the United Nations.
However, following the 2020 military coup, the Malian junta broke the peace agreement with the Tuareg rebel groups and attacked their stronghold, Kidal, in 2023. Since then, Kidal has been plagued by violence, especially against civilians.

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