23rd Oct 2016

EU ministers raise alarm on Mali executions

  • Timbuktu - local people rejoiced when French soldiers drove out jihadists. But a new threat is emerging (Photo: emilio labrador)

EU foreign ministers have given weight to reports that Malian soldiers are murdering civilians in the French-liberated north.

The ministers said in a statement in Brussels on Thursday (31 January) that: "The EU is alarmed about allegations of human rights violations and appeals to the Malian authorities to look into the matter immediately ... All the perpetrators of human rights violations must be held responsible for their acts."

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They said UN human rights monitors should mobilise "quickly."

They also urged Bamako to organise "an inclusive national dialogue open to people in the north and to all the groups which reject terrorism and recognise the territorial integrity of Mali."

French forces have in the past three weeks driven jihadist rebels out of towns in north Mali and into the region's deserts and mountains.

They plan to give the job of fighting a long-term guerrilla war in the harsh terrain to the Malian army and to a joint force from neighbouring African states, which will be trained by EU mentors.

The jihadists are said to have committed horrors: rapes of young girls, public amputations and use of child soldiers.

But as Malian forces regain control, reports multiply of atrocities from their side against young Muslim men accused of being "infiltrators" and against Touareg tribesmen, some of whom want independence for the north.

Amnesty International in a paper out on Friday (1 February) cited eyewitnesses who said Malian soldiers murdered two dozen civilians in the town of Sevare.

"Once the bodies had been thrown and were in the well, [the soldiers] fired two or three bursts of machine gun fire into the well," one witness told the British-based NGO on its 10-day-long fact-finding trip.

"Many people are genuinely afraid of being arrested, or worse, by the military," Amnesty's Gaetan Mootoo said.

The US-based NGO Human Rights Watch said up to 30 men were murdered in Sevare and 18 in other locations.

A BBC report broadcast on Thursday said Malian soldiers have shot dead other people in public squares for wearing Islamic dress and for not carrying identity documents.

The Amnesty report also said that a French air strike killed five civilians, including a mother and her three children, in the town of Konna on 11 January.

France denies it was to blame, however.

Meanwhile, its defence minister, Jean Yves Le Drian, told French radio on Thursday: "It's not our responsibility to maintain order in the towns; there are mayors, the mayors have returned to Gao and Timbuktu; the Malian authorities, the institutions are returning. So it's important for the Malian army, the Malian gendarmerie to ensure there are no acts of violence or reprisals, which people may be very tempted to carry out."

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