Mali’s army reinforced security Wednesday around two ethnic Dogon villages where 41 people were killed, according to a UN count, as survivors recounted how attackers from a rival community identified victims one by one before executing them.
Monday’s attack on the Gangafani and Yoro villages was the latest in a cycle of tit-for-tat violence between the Dogon and Fulani communities in the tense ethnic patchwork at the centre of Mali.
Mali’s government said Wednesday the army had dispatched a contingent to reinforce security and protect property in the villages near the border with Burkina Faso.
An internal UN MINUSMA peacekeeping mission report seen by AFP put the death toll at 41, higher than an earlier official toll of 38 with “numerous” injured.
The UN added that more than 750 people had fled the villages where survivors and officials say Fulani gunmen arrived by motorbike before massacring people in “revenge” over suspicions that they had collaborated with the Malian army.
In addition, the MINUSMA report said five Malian soldiers were killed in an ambush “by presumed extremist elements” Tuesday in Fatal, a village in the Timbuktu commune of Gourma Rharous.
The authorities did not immediately comment on the information.
– ‘They killed them in front of us’ –
Abdoulaye Goro, a security guard, told AFP he had been travelling by truck to his father’s funeral near the two villages, when about forty armed men intercepted the vehicle and forced the passengers into the bush.
“They did identity checks and they only looked for the people from Yoro and Gangafani, and all those who were from those two villages were set apart,” Goro said. “They killed them in front of us, with rifles, and released us afterwards.”
The attack follows a massacre of 35 people earlier this month in another Dogon village, Sobane Da.
The UN says the wave of ethnic violence has killed hundreds since the start of last year.
Ethnic tensions in central Mali surged after a jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015 and recruited mainly from among the Fulani. Clashes increased with Dogon and Bambara who formed their own self-defence militias.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appealed for or an end to revenge attacks after he visited the site of the Sobane Da massacre.
But despite military help from France and the United Nations, Mali’s government is struggling to calm violence that began in the north of the country in 2012, sparked by radical Islamist and Tuareg militias.
In March this year, in the bloodiest raid, 160 Fulani were killed in an attack on Ogossagou village by suspected militiamen from a rival ethnic group.
– Arrived by motorbike –
During Monday’s attack, witness Goro said, the gunmen blamed inhabitants for having “cooperated” with the Malian and Burkinabe military about 15 days ago in a raid in the neighbouring town of Dinagourou.
At the local level, “there is a dispute between the people of Gangafani and Yoro against the Fulani,” Goro said.
“Our kidnappers were taking revenge,” the security guard said.
Local officials said the situation has calmed down, but residents were shocked how the gunmen were able to arrive en masse by motorbike even after the government imposed a ban on the vehicles as a way to tighten security.
“The attackers arrived on more than 100 motorcycles, so we need to strengthen security,” said Amidou Maiga, a local retired civil servant. “People are frightened.”
The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, said in May it had recorded nearly 500 deaths in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 2018.
Armed Fulanis caused 63 deaths among civilians in the Mopti region over the same period, it said.
The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Bambara and Dogon ethic groups are traditionally sedentary farmers.