Mali has said that military investigators have opened an investigation into events in the village of Moura, the site of an alleged massacre by local forces and foreign fighters.
“Following the allegations of alleged abuses committed against civilians… the national gendarmes have opened investigations on the instructions of the Defence Ministry and veterans to carry out thorough investigations to shed light on these allegations,” the military prosecutor said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mali’s army announced on April 1 that it had killed 203 militants in Moura, in the centre of the Sahel nation, during an operation in late March.
However, that announcement followed widely shared social media reports of a civilian massacre in the area.
This week, Human Rights Watch also said that Malian forces and foreign fighters killed 300 civilians in Moura in late March, in what it called “the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict”.
Malian forces were operating in tandem with white foreign soldiers, according to HRW, who are believed to be Russian because witness accounts refer to them as non-French-speaking.
Russia has supplied what is officially described as military instructors to Mali.
However, the United States, France, and others say the instructors are operatives from Wagner’s Russian private-security firm.
On Wednesday, a United Nations human rights expert called for an independent investigation into a recent alleged massacre in conflict-torn central Mali.
In a statement, Alioune Tine called on the Malian authorities to allow the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as Minusma, to perform the investigation.
“The findings must be made public, and the alleged perpetrators brought to justice,” Tine added.
The rights expert joins the United States, European Union, the UN and the Malian human rights commission in calling for an investigation into the alleged massacre.
The UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the United Nations had launched a probe and was trying to send investigators to Moura as soon as possible.
Mali’s army said in its April 1 statement that it had carried out a “systemic cleansing” of the Moura area and that it was guided by respect for international law and human rights.
On Tuesday evening, as reports of a massacre mounted, Malian army chief of staff General Oumar Diarra warned in a statement against “unfounded allegations” that he said sought to tarnish the military’s image.
He added that Malian forces “do not operate against the civilian population; we are aware that the success of our operations depends on the support of this population”.