In Mali, Russia’s Wagner forces are helping the military kill civilians, rights groups say

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – A Russian military group known as Wagner is helping government forces in central and northern Mali carry out attacks that have killed civilians, including many children, rights groups said in reports published this week. period from December to March.

Mali, along with neighboring countries Burkina Faso and Niger, has been fighting an insurgency waged by jihadi groups, including those affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State, for more than a decade. Following military coups in all three countries in recent years, authorities have dismissed French troops and turned to Russian security forces for support.

Violence has escalated in Mali since Russian troops arrived there after a coup in 2021. Its ruling group has stepped up operations, carrying out deadly attacks against civilian groups, as well as rebels accompanying Russian troops who have killed civilians.

Residents of the Sahel region that includes Mali say Russia’s presence has not changed since Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died in a suspicious plane crash last year.

“The military government of Mali with the support of Russia is not only committing terrible atrocities, but it is trying to stop monitoring the situation of human rights,” he said. Ilaria AllegrozziSahel chief researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Thursday.

In an example of an attack by Russian-backed government forces in January, Human Rights Watch said soldiers entered a village near a military base in central Mali and arrested 25 people, including four children. Their bodies were found the same day blindfolded and with bullet wounds to the head, the report said.

Amnesty International said in a separate report earlier this week that two drone strikes in northern Mali killed at least 13 people, including seven children between the ages of 2 and 17. A pregnant woman who was injured in a bomb blast days after the attack. .

Human Rights Watch said that the drones that are being supplied by Turkey to Mali are capable of delivering precision bombs that are guided by lasers. The group has also documented how drone strikes have killed civilians. In one example, a plane strike in the central Mali region of Segou killed at least seven people at a wedding, including two boys, it said. The next day, a second drone strike targeted the funeral of those killed in the previous day’s strike.

The ruling governments of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso earlier this month announced a security force to deal with the growing violence. their Sahel region. This follows moves by the Juntas to distance themselves from other regional and Western countries that do not agree with their approach and rely on Russia for security support instead.

Although the military promised to end insurgency in their areas after removing the governments they elected, conflict analysts say instead violence has worsened in their districts. They share borders and their security forces fighting jihadi violence are numerous.

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