Armed men on motorcycles have killed at least 27 civilians in central Mali in three attacks on ethnic Dogon farming villages in less than 24 hours, local officials said on Thursday.
Central Mali has been ravaged in recent years by ethnic reprisal killings, as recriminations between Fulani herding and Dogon farming communities over violence compound long-standing grievances.
Local officials told Reuters news agency they believed the three attacks, between Tuesday night and Wednesday evening, were carried out by people claiming to be defending Fulani against rival Dogon.
“We were surprised by the attack on the village of Tille. Seven were killed, all Dogons, some of them burned alive,” said Yacouba Kassogue, the deputy mayor of Doucombo, the municipality in which Tille is located.
Attacks on villages in the neighbouring areas of Bankass and Koro killed another 20 civilians, most of them shot or burned to death, local officials said.
A spokesman for Mali’s army was not immediately available for comment. The army has been criticised by rights groups and residents for failing to protect civilians in central Mali.
Violence between the Dogon and Fulani has compounded an already dire security situation in Mali’s semi-arid and desert regions, which are used as a base by armed groups with ties to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group.
The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Dogon are traditionally sedentary farmers.
Last year, the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced it recorded “at least 488 deaths” in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou.
In the bloodiest raid, about 160 Fulani villagers were slaughtered in March last year at Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, by suspected Dogon hunters.
MINUSMA said since January 2018, armed Fulanis had “caused 63 deaths” among the civilians in the Mopti region.
MINUSMA has been operating in Mali since 2013, which ranks as the most dangerous UN mission, with 125 peacekeepers killed in attacks since deployment.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence, says it recorded nearly 300 civilian deaths in Mali in the first three months of 2020, a 90 percent increase over the previous quarter.