The U.N. children’s fund has strongly condemned the killing of at least 17 minors among scores of others slain in a weekend massacre in Niger.
UNICEF says unofficial sources put the death toll from Saturday’s attack in Tchomo-Bangou and Zaroumadareye villages at more than 100. A UNICEF statement Tuesday said the victims include 10 boys and seven girls, who were believed to be under the age of 16.
Gunmen surrounded the villages in the southwestern Tillaberi region and began killing people. Some children were burned to death, UNICEF said. There has been no claim of responsibility.
“Such wanton violence and disregard for the lives of children and families must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.
She said these “heinous acts are grave violations of children’s rights and of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
The attack on the villages near the Mali border came on the same day election officials announced results for the first round of Niger's presidential vote, showing ruling party candidate and former government minister Mohamed Bazoum with a clear lead. A runoff is set for next month.
The villages are in a volatile area where Islamist militant groups are active.
Seven Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in Tillaberi on December 21.
Travel by motorbike has been banned in Tillaberi since the first of January in a bid to prevent incursions by highly mobile fighters.
On the other side of Niger, Toumour in the Diffa region was the target of a December attack that left 45 people dead, including 10 children. UNICEF said the attackers destroyed “vital food stocks, water infrastructure, and two classrooms, affecting nearly 21,000 people.”
That attack too came the day before municipal and regional elections that had been repeatedly delayed because of poor security.
In total, about 4,000 people across Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso died in 2019 in violence and ethnic bloodshed stirred by Islamists, according to the U.N.
Fore said “UNICEF stands ready to support the government of Niger in assisting survivors and affected populations, and in protecting the rights of all children.”