One year after Russians arrive violence in Mali increases sharply
One year after Russians arrive violence in Mali increases sharply

Senegal: Alou Diallo claims that last month, while he was having tea with his family, groups of "white soldiers" attacked his village in central Mali, torching homes and killing people Whom they considered Islamic extremists.

While fleeing, his son was shot and wounded, then killed as he lay on the ground. However, he managed to escape by hiding in the bushes.

In Mali's capital Bamako, where he lives in a makeshift camp for displaced people, Diallo told The Associated Press, "I saw my 16-year-old son die."

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The 47-year-old former cattle breeder made no effort to hide his anger at the soldiers, whom he believed to be Russian mercenaries, who turned his village of Bamguel into that fateful Saturday.

I really want things to settle down and get back to normal.

A decade-long insurgency by Islamic extremists in Mali has been brought to an end by hundreds of fighters from the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian military contractor working with the country's armed forces, according to Western officials.

However, diplomats, analysts and human rights organizations claim that indiscriminate violence against civilians has increased since the arrival of the mercenaries and that extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have only grown more powerful. There are also concerns that the Russian presence will further destabilize an already volatile region.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed since December 2021, compared with nearly 500 civilian casualties in the previous 12 months, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Incident Data Project, a non-governmental organization.

Information collected by ACLED indicates that attacks linked to the Wagner Group were responsible for at least a third of the deaths reported last year.

According to Michael Sharkin, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and director of global programs at the consulting firm 14 North Strategies, "They are killing civilians and, by their very presence, giving Mali's security forces the green light to act on their worst inclinations." Have been."

Moscow's forces have been bolstered by military contractors from Wagner, a company founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Relations between Mali's military junta and the international community have been tense since the army took control of the country in two coups that began in 2020.

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In 2013, France sent troops to Mali to assist its former colony in expelling Islamist militants from the country's northern regions. However, as relations soured and anti-French sentiment grew among the population, France withdrew its troops in August.

The West claims Mali is turning more and more to Moscow for protection, but the junta claims it has only invited military instructors.

The junta's communications chief, Alassane Maga, insisted that Wagner was not doing business in the nation. Maga replied that the government of Mali protects its people and their property when asked about attacks on civilians.

He claimed that "human rights and international humanitarian law are respected in the military's protection and security missions."

When contacted for comment, Wagner Group did not provide one. Russian Deputy Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva rejected attempts from abroad to "discredit Russian aid to Mali".

Where Moscow has made a bilateral agreement to support the transitional government during the discussion of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. The Wagner Group was not mentioned by him.

According to a report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy, which researches violent extremism, 1,000 mercenaries have been deployed, and the Wagner Group is paid close to $11 million per month to provide security and training. Are getting.

In light of increasing jihadist violence, reports claim that Wagner's forces are finding it difficult to make significant progress. The al-Qaeda-linked extremist group carried out more than 90 attacks against civilians and the military during the rainy season between June and September.

That compared to six during the same period last year, the report said. In addition, an August attack on a barracks by a group linked to the Islamic State killed at least 42 Malian soldiers.

Human Rights Watch reported that in the bloodiest attack, 300 people were reportedly besieged and killed in March in the town of Moura by the Malian army and foreign troops believed to be Russian.

Most were civilians, but some were believed to be Islamic extremists. Twenty-seven people were named in the investigation, including witnesses, businessmen, local politicians, diplomats and security analysts.

When a similar incident was reported, Mali's defence ministry reported that 203 "terrorists" had been killed and 51 others had been taken into custody.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland said of the Wagner mercenaries: "There are widespread reports of human rights abuses across the region where they are working." 

We are concerned that these forces are more concerned with enriching themselves, destabilising the country, and escalating the terrorism problem than they are with the safety and security of Mali's citizens.

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank for defence and security, claimed that Russia lacks credibility when it comes to fighting terrorism in Africa or elsewhere.

Ramani cited their limited understanding of the terrain, strained relationships with low-ranking officers, and a rigid command and control structure as reasons for this. 

What we've seen repeatedly is that Russia and the Wagner Group forces are much better at strengthening the hold of authoritarian regimes in power than actually combating rebels and terrorist groups," Ramani said.

Many Malians accuse the military, as well as the white soldiers who assist them, of arbitrarily detaining people who were just going to the market, farming, or herding cattle. 

The majority of them are Fulani ethnic people who are being increasingly targeted by security forces who believe they are aiding Islamic militants.

Rights organisations claim that these alleged abuses support the extremists, who use popular complaints as a recruiting tool.

Hamidou, a 29-year-old cattle herder, claimed that in November, he and two other people were detained at their homes in the central Mali village of Douentza and charged with being Islamic militants. He was imprisoned in a small space where he was restrained, assaulted, and questioned by "white soldiers."

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Each day we received brutal beatings. For fear of retaliation, Hamidou requested to only be identified by his first name. He added that the majority of those arrested shared his Fulani ethnicity. 

"We didn't think we'd survive," he said. Arbitrary detentions and killings of Fulani civilians have significantly increased since Wagner arrived in Mali.

The AP was unable to independently verify every detail of his account, but a human rights researcher who also asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation claimed to have observed Hamidou's back and forehead scars after his release.

According to the International Crisis Group, Mali's government has limited the ability of the thousands of United Nations peacekeeping troops there to protect civilians from violence. Additionally, nations like Benin, Germany, Sweden, the Ivory Coast, and the United Kingdom have announced troop withdrawals.

The U.S. diplomat Nuland claimed that the Wagner Group had urged the junta to prevent the peacekeepers from entering areas where it had a duty to look into abuses. 

According to her, security is "getting harder as Wagner forces and others take on a larger role in the country and push out U.N. peacekeepers."

While many locals claim to detest Wagner, they worry that nothing will change until after the elections that are scheduled for February 2024, when a new administration will take office.

The choice of what steps to take to restore peace to Mali rests with the Malians, "the leader of a political opposition group, Seydou Diawara, said. "The security and humanitarian situation will only get worse if the international community uses force and pressure on the military.

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