Videos of an alleged massacre in central Mali are circulating on social media, with locals saying those killed were ethnic Fulani men whom security forces arrested in late February and early March. Mali's military this week denied any responsibility for the killings; however, VOA spoke to a man who said he witnessed troops arresting a close friend.
Last week, the videos began circulating on social media in Mali, showing the burned corpses of dozens of men, blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs.
Fulani in villages around Diabaly, in central Mali, say that the victims were recently arrested by the Malian army.
The Fulani are a traditionally pastoralist ethnic group spread across West Africa and have for years accused the army of unfairly targeting them for supposed ties to extremism.
A local man, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal, told VOA via a messaging app from his village that he witnessed troops arresting the men who disappeared, including a close friend and six of his acquaintances.
It was the Malian army, he said. They are the ones who took them. He said they were wearing uniforms; they were on motorbikes. They chased us away, and they called in reinforcements. Then, he said, they took all these seven guys that I know myself, in their vehicles.
He said he witnessed the arrests of around 35 men, although others in the area say there were more. He said the army came to a field where the men were tending to their cattle on the morning of March 1st, and he believes the men were killed that evening in the scene that was later captured on video.
The army released a written statement on Saturday denying any culpability in executions that occurred “near Diabaly on the night of March 1-2, 2022.”
VOA attempted to reach a Malian army spokesman for comment, but he did not return phone calls.
The United Nations confirmed to the Reuters news agency last week that it will be investigating the allegations.
Corinne Dufka, the Sahel region director at Human Rights Watch, said via a messaging app from Washington that her team has been investigating the incident.
“We have, in the last several months, been investigating a number of very serious incidents involving armed Islamists and the army, which have resulted in over a hundred people being killed. It appears as though abuses by the army are trending up, and this latest incident is, again, the most serious that we have heard in many, many years,” she said.
Dufka said Human Rights Watch is calling on Malian and international authorities, including the U.N., to conduct a credible investigation.
Aly Tounkara, a security analyst based in Mali, said via a messaging app from Bamako that he has not yet been able to authenticate the video. But, he said regardless of what happened on the ground, the situation could worsen the already tense relationship between the Fulani and the armed forces.
He said this kind of video will push certain people to lose confidence in the armed security forces, and even to accuse them of ethnic cleansing.
Human Rights Watch says it will be publishing a report next week on alleged killings by both armed Islamist groups and state security forces in Mali.