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U.N. Says At Least 95 People Killed In Attack On Mali Village

The United Nations says at least 95 people were killed in an armed attack on a village in central Mali. It's the latest in a spate of deadly attacks in the region, which has seen escalating tensions between ethnic groups.

The attack on the village of Sobanou-Kou started Sunday evening when a group of armed men poured into the village, according to a statement from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.

In the past few months, international observers have sounded the alarm over hundreds of civilians killed in ethnic attacks between the Dogon community, who are farmers and hunters, and the Fulani, or Peuhl, community, who are herders.

Sobanou-Kou is made up of people from the Dogon community. "Local officials blame Fulani-Peulh herdsmen for the attack and say it's difficult to identify badly burned bodies and that many in the village of 300 are yet to be accounted for," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported.

MINUSMA said last month that since January 2018, it has documented abuses by traditional hunters against the Fulani population that have resulted in 488 deaths in the Mopti and Segou regions. It added that Fulani armed groups have caused 63 deaths in the area during the same period.

The deadliest such attack happened on March 23, when at least 157 civilianswere killed in Ogossagou, a Fulani village. The perpetrators of that attack were believed to be Dogon, though as The Associated Press reported, a Dogon militia leader has denied that his group was responsible.

These attacks, and other attacks by militant groups, have also caused political unrest. In April, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, Bamako, over the government's handling of the violence. Following the protests, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga submitted his resignation. Boubou Cisse, a former finance minister, was then named prime minister.

"This despicable killing of civilians in Mali is the latest episode of a spiral of violence which hit the country. It shows a total and utter contempt for human life," Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty International's west and central Africa director, said in a statement about Sunday's attack. "The growing unrest and subsequent violence reported in the center of the country are characterized by killings, enforced disappearances and burning of villages, on an appalling scale."

"The government of Mali presents its deepest condolences to mourning families and assures all measures will be taken to arrest and punish the authors of this carnage," Mali's communications ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The ethnic groups have long had disagreements about resources, including grazing land and water. But according to the U.N., the tensions between the Dogon and Fulani communities have been "exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups" in the region. Human Rights Watch says that Islamist armed groups have increased their presence in central Mali since 2015.

"The Dogon accuse the Fulani-Peulh of having ties to al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in Mali," Quist-Arcton reported. "The Fulani say the Malian military arms the Dogon hunters against them."

This tension has given rise to "ethnic self-defense groups," HRW says – and the groups have told the human rights organization that they "took security into their own hands because the government had failed to adequately protect their villages and property." The increased presence of Islamist armed groups in the area has also made it easier to access weapons.

"Over the recent months, violence has reached unprecedented [levels] amid retaliatory attacks and serious violations of human rights in central Mali impacting on all communities," U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned in March. "Unless these concerns are immediately addressed, there is a high risk of further escalation of the situation in which atrocity crimes could be committed."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.