A Russian national operating alongside Malian soldiers was killed by a roadside bomb in Sahel state, marking the first confirmed death of what in Mali are officially described as Russian military instructors.
According to an army document seen by AFP, a Malian army unit accompanied by a “Russian adviser” struck an improvised explosive device near the town of Hombori on Tuesday.
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The Russian adviser died after being airlifted to the central Malian town of Sevare, the Malian army memo said.
An official at a hospital in Sevare, who asked not to be named, confirmed the death and said the Russian was in his 30s. An elected official in central Mali, who also requested anonymity, said that he had “learned of the death of a Wagner agent”.
Mali is struggling to stem violent groups linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) that have gained ground and escalated attacks during the past decade, spreading south and to bordering countries in West Africa’s arid Sahel region.
The United States, France and others, have said Russian military instructors in Mali are operatives from the Russian private-security firm Wagner.
Mali’s army-dominated government, which seized power in a coup in 2020, has denied the claim that Wagner is operating in the country, and the Malian military’s friendship with Russia has increased friction with France, a traditional ally.
France, which intervened in Mali in 2013, decided in February to withdraw its forces from the country after a decade-long fight against rebels.
‘Effective justice for victims’
The United Nations said on Wednesday that it is “extremely concerned” that Mali has not allowed its independent investigators to visit a town where local troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly killed hundreds of civilians.
At least 300 men are believed to have been summarily executed during a March 27-31 raid on Moura, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants, which is said to be infiltrated by armed fighters, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Survivors of the military operation said white mercenaries, suspected to be Russians, took part in the massacre that sparked international uproar and prompted the UN to open an investigation.
“We are extremely concerned that Malian authorities have still not granted UN human rights investigators access,” UN spokesperson Seif Magango said in a statement.
“Time is of essence to ensure accountability and prompt, effective justice for victims,” he added.
Magango said unconfirmed sources suggested the death toll from the raid on Moura could be as high as 500, mostly civilians.
Soldiers also reportedly raped, looted and arbitrarily detained a number of Moura’s inhabitants, the UN statement said.
Mali’s military has denied the allegations of a massacre, saying it had conducted a professional operation to attack rebels in Moura, and that it would carry out its own assessment.
Both Mali and Russia have also previously said that Russians operating in the country are not mercenaries, but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
The Russian government has also denied ties to the Wagner group.