Mali’s army announced Saturday it had opened an investigation into the alleged killing of 53 villagers in the centre of the country, while at the same time denouncing “disinformation”.
The announcement follows media reports in September of abuses by Malian troops and the mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group reportedly working with them.
The probe had been opened “to confirm or deny reports of an alleged killing of 53 civilians in the village (of) Gouni-Habe”, the army said, at the end of a four-page statement describing operations since late September.
The statement also called for “vigilance and restraint against these propagandistic… attempts by certain media whose sole aim is to sow chaos, hatred, division, and desolation in Mali”.
It gave no information on the events it was investigating, nor the source of the allegations.
But Radio France Internationale in early September, citing local sources, reported accounts of abuses by Malian soldiers, Russian auxiliaries and members of a community of traditional hunters.
The alleged abuses took place in Nia-Ouro village, not far from Gouni-Habe, in the central Mopti region.
RFI’s report referred to rapes, sexual abuse, as well of theft, and pillaging.
Nia-Ouro and the surrounding territory is known for being a site where jihadists of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Katiba Macina are active. Mali’s army carried out an operation there lasting several days.
There have been regular reports that mercenaries from the controversial Russian firm Wagner have been fighting alongside Malian soldiers.
Mali’s ruling junta, in power since August 2020, has repeated deny they are using Wagner forces, referring only to Russian military instructors sent as part of a longstanding cooperation agreement.
Mali’s troops have long been accused of abuses, including by the UN mission deployed there.
The authorities insist that the country’s soldiers respect human rights and investigate reports of abuses, but the results of such investigations are rarely made public.