Mali orders investigation into killings of 43 villagers
BAMAKO, June 8 (Reuters) - Mali's government said it had ordered investigations into whether soldiers killed 43 people during attacks on two villages last week.
Armed men dressed in military fatigues raided the village of Binedama on Friday, killing 29 people including women and children and burning down houses, officials said.
Two days earlier, attackers killed 14 people in the village of Niangassadiou, the government said in its statement.
Both villages are in the West African country’s central Mopti region, which has seen dozens of tit-for-tat ethnic massacres over the past few years.
In both cases community leaders said attackers targeted members of the Fulani group – semi-nomadic herders who have been accused by rival farming communities of supporting Islamist militants.
Fulani association Tabital Pulaaku has said all the victims were innocent civilians. Last week it accused Malian soldiers of carrying out both attacks, saying the troops surrounded Binedama in pick-up trucks before moving in, and attacked a trade fair at Niangassadiou.
The government acknowledged the accusation and said it had asked the military and the justice system to conduct the investigation.
“If it turned out that these killings were the work of national army members, sanctions matching the seriousness of these actions would be taken by the head of the military,” it said in its statement issued late on Sunday.
Human rights groups have accused Malian armed forces of targeting people suspected of being Islamist sympathisers and carrying out extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture and arbitrary arrests.
The government has acknowledged some abuses by its forces in the past but has also rejected many allegations made by rights groups. The military has promised to investigate the charges.
Mali has been in crisis since 2012 when al Qaeda-linked militants hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists and seized the desert north.
French forces intervened the following year to drive them back, but the militants have regrouped and extended their operations into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Andrew Heavens)