Malian authorities must react strongly after at least 16 Fulani herders were killed in suspected ethnic clashes, France’s foreign ministry said as its former colony gears up for elections.
Thousands of French forces have been based in the West African country and the wider Sahel region since Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamists took over its north in 2012, prompting Paris to intervene to push them back the following year.
Ahead of July’s presidential elections, France is concerned at rising lawlessness and the failure of central government to push ahead with a peace deal negotiated almost three years ago.
The latest clash comes a week after Malian authorities admitted some soldiers were implicated in gross violations following the discovery of mass graves.
“France expresses its profound concern over the crimes, including the many murders and abductions, committed in recent weeks against civilians in central Mali,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement.
“These acts require a strong reaction from Malian authorities. It is crucial this response is based on a balanced approach, combining judicial action, prevention of new human rights violations and disarmament of all militias, as government is committed to doing.”
Lands north of Bamako are a lawless scrubland used as a launch pad for jihadist attacks across West Africa that, coupled with local ethnic tensions, has made governing near impossible and the forthcoming elections difficult to manage.
Saturday’s attack against herders was on Koumaga village in the Mopti region, government said.
Government has given no sign it will delay July’s polls, but Saturday’s violence comes after a turbulent month in the cotton- and gold-producing nation.
Von der Muhll said it was important allegations of involvement of members of the Malian armed forces in attacks were promptly investigated and those responsible be prosecuted and punished if the facts were proven.