UN demands that Mali let peacekeepers into city where 300 people were killed

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The top UN envoy in Mali demanded on Thursday that the country’s military leaders allow UN peacekeepers to visit a city where Human Rights Watch says the Malian military and Foreign troops, suspected to be Russian, recently killed an estimated 300 people, including a number of alleged rights abuses condemned by the US, Britain and France.

According to Human Rights Watch, the killings in Moura were the worst single atrocities reported in Mali’s 10-year armed struggle against Islamic extremists. Britain and France alleged that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group affiliated with the Kremlin were involved.

UN Special Representative Al-Gasim Wain told the UN Security Council that the government, in a release issued on 1 April, stressed that in the Moura region in central Mali, south of Mopti, “it has neutralized several terrorist elements”. “.

But he said the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA “received reports of serious human rights abuses committed against a large number of civilians during this operation.” He said that except on a reconnaissance flight on April 3, he sought access to the area, which has so far been denied.

France’s UN ambassador Nicolas de Rivire cited reports of human rights violations by elements of the Malian armed forces in Moura “along with Russian mercenaries of the Wagner group” that could constitute a war crime. He called for an early opening of national and international investigations and for MINUSMA to conduct its own unhindered investigation to establish the facts and report to the Security Council.

Mali has fought to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. The extremist rebels were forced out of power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military campaign, but they regrouped in the desert and launched attacks on the Malian army and its allies. , Attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers have compounded the insecurity.

In August 2020, Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita, who died in January, was overthrown in a coup that included Army Colonel Asimi Goita. Last June, Goita was sworn in as chairman of a transitional government after conducting his second coup in nine months and reportedly decided to allow the deployment of the Wagner group later in the year.

The killings in Moura are part of a rise in violence in recent months by al-Qaeda-linked extremists in the Islamic Maghreb and by Islamic State and Malian government security forces in Greater Sahara. Extremists have also killed several Malian security force personnel since early 2022.

US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills said the first three months of the year have been marked by “dangerous accounts of human rights abuses” against civilians by terrorist groups and the Malian armed forces “including individuals associated with the Kremlin-backed Wagner group”, and that he Demanded so that those responsible can be held accountable.

Mills noted that the Malian authorities have announced an investigation into the incidents in Moura during the week of March 28, and also urged the government to provide immediate access to Minusma. He also called for an investigation into the “execution-style murder of more than 35 people” in the Segou region of central Mali on March 2.

“This increase in reports of human rights abuses is precisely why the United States continues to warn countries against partnering with the Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group,” Mills said. “Wagner forces have been implicated in human rights abuses, including execution-style killings, in the Central African Republic and elsewhere.”

Britain’s Deputy United Nations Ambassador James Kariuki told the council “the United Kingdom is appalled by the increase in human rights abuses since the deployment of the Wagner group in Mali,” and by the killings during the army’s counter-terrorism operation in Moura. form” participation of the Wagner Group. ,

He said Moura’s latest report “underlines the extent of Russia’s malign activity that is harming efforts to address peace and security beyond Ukraine,” and demanded that MINUSMA fulfill its human rights mandate and all Investigate the allegations.

“We know that, as of early 2022, about 1,000 Russian mercenaries were stationed in Mali,” Kariyuki said. “Just as the presence of Russian mercenaries led to an increase in human rights violations and abuses in the Central African Republic last year, we fear we are now seeing the same in Mali.”

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Anna Evstignyeva said Russia has a long history of cooperation with Mali and is working to improve the training and capabilities of its military and law enforcement. Currently, she said, 200 soldiers and nine police officers are being trained in Russia.

“As for the information campaign about the so-called Russian mercenaries, we consider it as part of a malicious geopolitical game,” said Evstigneeva.

UN envoy Wen not only painted a grim picture of the past three months on the security front, but told the Security Council that “no tangible progress has been made” in the peace process.

The regional group ECOWAS imposed strict economic sanctions on Mali in response to the military’s failure to make progress towards the election.

Wen said that at an ECOWAS summit on March 25 in Accra, Ghana that included the African Union and Minusma Mali’s military, they requested an additional 24 months to end the infection due to the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation. ,

But it was still considered too long” and the summit favored 12 to 18 months as the basis for negotiations, he said.

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