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The Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report stating its belief that Malian forces and suspected Russian fighters killed close to 300 civilians in late March.
The killing reportedly took place in the town of Moura. HRW says the majority of the victims were ethnic Fulanis.
“I lived in terror, each minute, each second thinking it would be my turn to be taken away and executed. Even after being told to go, I feared it was a trap,” an eyewitness is quoted as saying. “As I walked away, slowly, I held my hand on my chest, holding my breath, and waiting for a bullet to pass through my body,” he added.
Sources told the rights group that more than 100 Russian-speaking men were allegedly involved in the operation. HRW has described the crimes as the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s history of conflict.
“Abuses by armed Islamist groups is no justification at all for the military’s deliberate slaughter of people in custody,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. “The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity, the worst in Mali in a decade, whether carried about by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers.”
The 100 Russian mercenaries were accompanied by Malian soldiers deployed to Moura for an operation, which lasted for four days.
“After surrounding the area, the soldiers patrolled through town, executing several men as they tried to flee, and detaining hundreds of unarmed men from the market and their homes,” HRW said. “Over the four days, the soldiers ordered the detained men in groups of four, six, or up to 10, to stand up and walk for between several dozen and several hundred meters. There, the Malian and foreign soldiers summarily executed them.”
The U.S. has already called for an independent investigation. Germany, France and the European Union have also demanded answers.