A human rights group is trying to verify reports of civilian deaths and disappearances as French and government forces retake control of towns in northern Mali. The group says there are many reported cases of retaliation and ethnic violence.
Human Rights Watch is conducting interviews in the Sevare region, about 500 kilometers north of the capital Bamako.
“We have a lot of reports of people who have been killed – some allegedly by Malian soldiers. And there are many cases in Sevare. In fact, there are many dead bodies that have turned up around town. We have received reports of people being killed or disappeared. And so these are quite difficult cases to establish because we don’t know where these people are,” said Philippe Bolopion, who spoke to VOA by cellphone.
He said a check of the local prison failed to find any of the people reported missing.
Human Rights Watch reported it has documented some cases of civilian casualties from French air strikes, as well as abuses by retreating Islamist fighters. However, Bolopion said Human Rights Watch has not been able to come up with any hard figures on the number of civilians reported killed or missing.
“It’s very hard to tell. It could be 10. It could be 20. It could be 30. It’s very hard to tell. Some of the people who have disappeared we can’t tell whether they’ve been killed or not,” he said.
He said that often civilians are afraid to talk because they say they’ve seen people killed in broad daylight.
Gathering evidence is difficult because access to many areas is restricted by the Malian army. HRW also said there is a lot of ethnic tension in northern Mali following the retreat of the rebels. It added there are reports of pro-government militias looking for those suspected of collaborating with the rebels.