Russian mercenaries perpetrated massacres of civilians in Mali

A Wagner Group private security guard (left) with a Central African Republic soldier during a rally in Bangui in March. Photograph: Barbara Debout/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian mercenaries in Africa have been linked to massacres that have killed several hundred civiliansraising new fears about the impact of Moscow’s increasingly intense interventions on the stability and security of countries across the continent.

According to information revealed by Guardianwitnesses, local community leaders, diplomats and local analysts have blamed the infamous mercenaries of the “Wagner Group”, a private military organization very close to Vladimir Putin. of many of these deaths.

The incidents occurred in Mali, the strategic West African country that Wagner arrived in last year after reaching an agreement with its new military rulers.

Internal Malian Army documents seen by The Guardian reveal the presence of Wagner members on “mixed missions” with Malian soldiers and gendarmes during operations in which many civilians have been killed.

According to data compiled by the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), as many as 456 civilians were killed in nine incidents involving Malian forces and Wagner between January and mid-April this year.

The most serious incident reported by the British media occurred in March, when it is alleged that the Wagner Group was involved in a massacre in Moura, a town controlled by Islamist extremists, where between 350 and 380 people were killed in a four-day period.

New allegations emerged last week of two shootings in villages around the town of Hombori in the central Mopti region, following the death of one or possibly two Wagner mercenaries accompanying Malian troops on operations against Islamist militants.

The attack would have come after a military patrol was ambushed on the outskirts of a town around 9:30 am on April 10. In a Malian military memo, obtained by The Guardian, a “Russian instructor” was injured by an improvised mine and died after being airlifted to the town of Sevare. A medical official in Sevare described the man as a Russian in his 30s.

After the ambush, Malian soldiers fired into a crowded market.

The military rulers of Mali, who seized power in a coup in May last yearThey have said that the Russians in the country are instructors and not deployed in combat roles. The military, sometimes known by the abbreviation FAMA, he has denied that a Russian was killed on April 19 and said the victim was one of his own soldiers. He has also denied killing civilians and said 18 terrorists had been “neutralized” during “vigorous” security operations.

Russian mercenaries linked to massacres of civilians in Mali, says The Guardian
Russian mercenaries in northern Mali. Analysts say the Wagner group is key to Putin’s ambitions to reimpose Russian influence on a global scale. Photograph: AP

Another internal memo cited by the outlet describes a confrontation on April 23 between militants and “a joint patrol of FAMA and Russian instructors” between the villages of Mondoro and Boni. The “provisional losses” amounted to “two dead, one FAMA and one Russian, and 10 wounded, six FAMA and four Russians”, says the memo sent a few hours after the incident. Details of “enemy losses” were “not available at this time.”

Twelve others, who may have been extremists, are also believed to have been killed.

Wagner has been active in a dozen countries in Africa and has been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses on the continent. On Tuesday, a Human Rights Watch report alleged that forces in the Central African Republic identified as Russian they appear to have killed and tortured civilians since 2019, echoing similar findings by a UN think tank last year. The group has also taken part in the invasion of Ukraine and has been linked to atrocities there.

British officials have raised concerns about “a significant deterioration in the human rights situation” in Mali in recent months, which they say coincided with the arrival of between 600 and 1,000 Wagner fighters.

“Just as the presence of Russian mercenaries led to an increase in human rights violations and abuses in the Central African Republic in 2021, the same is now being seen in Mali”a UK diplomat told The Guardian.

The country’s new rulers hired Wagner for an estimated fee of 10 million dollars per month to be paid both in cash and through rights to extract minerals, as experts believe.

A series of satellite photos shared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as well as flight logs, revealed a headquarters set up by the group near the capital’s international airport in December, before moving to forward operating bases in a strip of territory in central Mali in January and February.

Community leaders, diplomats and officials have told The Guardian that Wagner fighters have been seen on joint patrols with the Malian armed forces along the disputed border with Burkina Faso and Niger, on the western border with Mauritania, and also in cities in northern Mali, including Timbuktu.

Pilots provided by Wagner now fly Malian army helicopters and the group has also provided fighters who have led Malian forces in larger operations, notably a major push against Islamist insurgents that began in late February.

Wagner Group Mercenary
Wagner Group Mercenary a paramilitary force in the service of Russia.

In early March, More than 30 charred bodies were found in the town of Niono, in central Mali, following operations by Malian forces supported by Wagner. Local witnesses accused Malian and Russian fighters of killing civilians. Many victims had been bound and blindfolded and then shot, according to Human Rights Watch. The Malian authorities denied the accusations.

Moura, where the alleged massacre of hundreds of people took place in March, is a village in an inaccessible swampy area of ​​the Niger River floodplain that has been controlled for many years by militants from the Al Qaeda-linked Islam Support Group and Muslims (GSIM). The extremists have imposed their harsh and intolerant version of Sharia law on residents, raising taxes and forcing local men to follow their dress codes.

Amadou Barry, who lives in the neighboring village, told The Guardian that he was attending the weekly market in Moura on March 27 when helicopters appeared and troops landed. A small group of Islamist militants in the town fired at the soldiers and then fled on motorbikes.

“We all started running in all directions, some towards houses. Then the Malian army opened fire on the running people, killing a lot of people.” Barry said.

Malian soldiers then marched hundreds of men from the village to a nearby dry riverbed for questioning. The men were held there with little food or water for four days, while soldiers periodically led off groups of captives to kill them.

Some villagers were released after their fingers and shoulders were inspected for signs of shooting, but all the men from the Peuhl ethnic minority were detained, Barry said.

The GSIM and other extremist Islamist factions have tried to recruit among the Peuhl herders by exploiting grievances with the government and other ethnic groups. According to survivors, those killed in Moura were all from the Peuhl community.

Héni Nsaibia, principal investigator of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data

(ACLED), He said that between 60 and 100 of the dead may have been unarmed Islamist militants, but the rest were civilians. Government forces found large quantities of weapons in Moura.

Several witnesses said the operation was led by white men who spoke “a strange language” that some identified as Russian, even though most of the soldiers who killed civilians were “Malian.”

Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya.
Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya.

“We know that the Wagners are deployed in central Mali, they have been assisting in operations to lift and bring more soldiers to their positions in the region. I think it’s pretty clear that it was Wagner who was running this operation.” said Ousmane Diallo, a researcher for Amnesty International in Mali.

Nsaibia said his own extensive investigation among survivors led to a similar conclusion, while a West African diplomat in Mali said “investigations into the events in Moura had confirmed that Wagner’s forces were working with Malian forces in central Mali.”

Human Rights Watch, the campaign group, called the incident “the worst atrocity reported in Mali’s decade of armed conflict.” Mali’s army said it killed 203 militants during a military operation in Moura and denied reports of executions.

For its part, Russia vetoed a United Nations offer to commission an independent investigation into the massacre, and Mali blocked UN efforts to send a team to Moura. Moscow’s deputy ambassador to the UN said that the Malian authorities had “no hidden agenda” and that the claims about the involvement of Russian mercenaries in the massacre were part of “a sordid geopolitical game”.

The United States and others have alleged that Wagner it is financed by the powerful businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is closely related to Putin.

The British media contacted the Russian oligarch who denied any knowledge of the group, as well as any involvement in the massacres attributed to them.

“Any terrorist killed by the Malian army, the collective West tried to pass him off as a civilian. As for the alleged atrocities, neither I, nor the men I know, nor the Malian army have committed them,” Prigozhin stated.

Prigozhin accused The Guardian of “forgeries, outright lies and forgery” and trying to “spit on me, the Russian patriots and the Malian people”.


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