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Islamist armed groups, army targeting civilians in Mali: HRW

Islamist armed groups and Malian soldiers killed at least 175 civilians, many of them children, between April and September in Mali, Human Rights Watch has said, condemning the targeted killing of civilians as war crimes. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) was responsible for the deaths of at least 135 civilians in two attacks, the human rights organisation said in a report seen by AFP on Thursday. HRW pointed the finger at GSIM fighters for the massacre on the Timbuktu ferry on Mali’s Niger River on September 7, which left at least 120 people dead according to witness testimonies collected by the organisation. Malian soldiers and fighters apparently from the Russian mercenary group Wagner killed 40 civilians in three operations between April and September, it said. Bamako’s junta leaders struck up a partnership with Wagner after French troops pulled out of Mali in 2022. The HRW report is based on telephone interviews with 40 people conducted in August and September. HRW senior Sahel researcher Ilaria Allegrozzi said that the figures recorded only related to five cases specifically investigated by the organisation, and that the number of civilians killed during that period in Mali could be much higher. The country, ruled by a military junta since 2020, has been locked in the grip of jihadism and a deep multidimensional crisis since 2012. HRW said it had sent its findings to Malian authorities but had not received a response. AFP was unable to obtain any reaction. “The Malian government has failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians in conflict affected areas,” Human Rights Watch said. “The targeted killing of civilians by Islamist armed groups and the Malian army are war crimes that should be thoroughly and impartially investigated,” said Allegrozzi. The organisation called on Mali’s transitional military authorities to, with the support of international rights experts, “urgently conduct credible and impartial investigations into the alleged abuses, and hold those responsible to account.”

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