At least 21 people have been reported dead or missing after an attack on a village in central Mali that was the scene last year of the country’s worst civilian massacre in recent years.
The Malian government said the armed men burned homes and looted livestock in the village of Ogossagou, a village of Fulani herders in the central Mopti region, during the attack on Friday morning.
The government statement did not say who carried out the attack.
Hamadou Dicko from Fulani association Tabital Pulaaku put the death toll at 22 minimum.
“They came and shot everything that moved,” he said.
In the attack on Ogossagou last March, suspected fighters from a rival group killed more than 150 civilians, part of spiralling ethnic violence in West Africa’s vast Sahel region. Malian officials have said they suspect Dan Na Ambassagou, an ethnic Dogon group of carrying out last year’s massacre in Ogossagou. The group has denied responsibility.
Moulaye Guindo, mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, and another local official, who declined to be named, told Reuters News Agency that Ogossagou been attacked on Friday less than 24 hours after Malian troops who had been stationed near Ogossagou left their base.
An army spokesman said soldiers had been deployed to respond to the attack but declined to comment on whether they had previously left the local base.
The United Nations mission in Mali said it sent a quick reaction force to the village, where several were also wounded. It also provided air support to prevent further attacks and evacuate the wounded, it said.
Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the UN mission in Mali, said he was shocked and outraged by the attack.
“There is an urgent need to break the spiral of violence in this region,” he said.
Central Malian residents have criticised the army for failing to protect them against violence that has displaced 200,000 people and left many communities with no local government or means of defence.
More than 450 civilians were killed in central Mali last year by armed groups, making it the deadliest year in the region since the country’s crisis began in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.
Ethnic clashes have been continuing and exploited by armed groups allied to al-Qaeda and ISIL (or ISIS) who have been recruiting men from the Peuhl or Fulani ethnic group to their cause.
Dogon armed groups have also arisen and are accused of supporting Mali’s military crackdown on the armed groups.
The conflict has claimed thousands of lives and spread to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.