Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga – speaking here to United Nations peacekeepers in May – said he deplored the bloodshed after a UN probe found that the Malian army had “summarily” executed 12 civilians. By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP)
The Malian army “summarily” executed 12 civilians in a market in central Mali in May in retaliation for the death of a soldier, a UN investigation into the killings said.
Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said he deplored the bloodshed, adding that the unit in question had now been withdrawn from the area and faces possible discipline.
On May 19 a Malian soldier and at least a dozen other people were killed in violence that occurred during an army patrol through a market.
The army said the 12 were “terrorists” who had been “neutralised”, but local residents said they were civilians.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Paris, Maiga said that the government had “taken the necessary measures” after the bloodshed, which he said he regretted and deplored.
He pleaded, though, for understanding about “the complexity and the difficulties on the ground.”
“We are fighting people who are not in uniform, and all armies have seen this type of situation,” he said.
Maiga said a military court would investigate the killings, after which “rapid, clear and dissuasive punishments” would be meted out in order to “preserve the credibility of operations (and) the morale of our troops”.
The Malian army is often accused of making arbitrary arrests and carrying out extra-judicial executions in the fight against jihadists.
Following the incident, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, announced at a press conference it would send a special team from its human rights division to inquire into the incident, which occurred in Boulkessi, a town near the border with Burkina Faso.
“The MINUSMA investigation concluded that, on May 19, elements of the Malian battalion of the joint G5 Sahel force summarily and/or arbitrarily executed 12 civilians at Boulkessy’s livestock market,” the UN mission said late Tuesday, using an alternative spelling of the town’s name.
The killings were “in reprisal for the death of one of (the soldiers), who was shot dead by an unidentified attacker,” it said in a statement.
The statement said the investigation had been sent to the Malian government.
Backed by former colonial power France, Mali and four other countries have set up a regional force to fight jihadists in the Sahel but the so-called G5 force has been deploying slowly and struggling with funding.
France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces drive Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists out of the north.
But large tracts of the country remain lawless despite a peace accord signed with ethnic Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists. The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.