Armed men killed at least 12 villagers in central Mali, local officials said on Thursday, while in the capital Bamako West African mediators held talks on how to end a wave of protests against Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Several mass protests since early June have demanded Keita’s resignation, accusing him, among other things, of failing to quash violence by jihadist groups and ethnic militias that has killed hundreds of civilians this year.
In the latest attacks, armed men on motorbikes targeted seven villages inhabited by Dogon farmers in Mopti region, said Ali Dolo, the mayor of a nearby town.
“Among the dead, ten were cultivating their fields,” he told Reuters. “This means the attacks are aimed at preventing people from farming.”
Another local mayor placed the final death toll at 13.
In Bamako, meanwhile, Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan arrived on Wednesday to lead a delegation from West African regional bloc ECOWAS.
The delegation is due to meet with Keita, opposition leaders and the electoral commission in an effort to end violent clashes between protesters and security forces that have killed at least 11 people since last Friday.
“With the cooperation of you and people of good will who want the problem to be resolved, I am hopeful that the crisis will end,” he told the state radio station on Thursday.
Last Saturday, Keita promised to move to implement recommendations made by a previous ECOWAS delegation last month, including that the government “reconsider” the results of disputed March legislative elections that helped spark the protests.
The violence over the past week has hardened the opposition’s calls for his resignation, although it has called off a planned mass prayer in the heart of Bamako this Friday that some feared would lead to fresh violence.