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More than 100 civilians killed in Mali in recent months

BAMAKO, MALI (AP) – More than 107 civilians have been killed in recent months in Mali in attacks by Mali’s army and extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

Among the civilians killed since December 2021, Mali’s soldiers have been responsible for at least 71 of the deaths, the international rights organisation said in a report.

Mali’s army has contested some of the report, while adding that it is investigating a number of the attacks and allegations.

The army has been accused of abuses against civilians in southwest and central Mali as soldiers try to stem violence from extremist fighters who have been staging attacks for nearly a decade.

“The victims, mostly summarily executed, include traders, village chiefs, religious leaders and children,” the organisation said in its report.

Extremists are responsible for killing at least 36 civilians since December, according to the report.

“There has been a dramatic spike in the number of civilians, including suspects, killed by the Malian army and armed extremist groups,” said Sahel director at HRW Corinne Dufka. “This complete disregard for human life, which includes apparent war crimes, should be investigated and those found to be implicated, appropriately punished.”

Since the Malian crisis in 2012, civilians continue to pay the price of war, with more than 320,000 people displaced, according to HRW.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed, with extremists, rebels, ethnic militias and security forces implicated, the organisation said. Most of the killings have occurred in central Mali, the epicentre of conflict since 2015, it said.

Extremists have also targetted and killed hundreds of security force members.

A spike in violence comes as the French military has begun withdrawing troops from Mali.

Many fear that the extremists could now regain territory as France continues pulling out its soldiers over the next five months.

France first intervened in 2013, leading a military operation to force extremists from power in towns across northern Mali. But in the years since, those militants have carried out scores of attacks against the Malian military and United Nations peacekeepers.

The rights report comes as neighbouring Mauritania accuses the Malian army of recurrent abuse against its civilians in Malian territory. The Mauritanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also summoned the Ambassador of Mali.