At least 16 Fulani herders were killed in suspected ethnic clashes in central Mali, government and local sources said, underscoring the chronic instability blighting the West African nation ahead of elections next month.
Mali is expected to go to the polls at the end of July, but north of the capital Bamako has become a lawless scrubland used as a launch pad for jihadist attacks across West Africa that, coupled with local ethnic tensions, made governing near impossible and the forthcoming elections difficult to manage.
Saturday saw an attack on the village Koumaga in the Mopti region, government said.
“I confirm there were clashes between people from the same village (Koumaga), in the circle of Djenné (near Mopti). The army intervened to intervened and counted 16 dead for the moment,” security spokesman Amadou Sangho told Reuters.
Government did not provide further details, but an organisation representing Fulani herders said close to 50 people were killed by Donzo hunters in ongoing clashes between the two groups fighting over land, grazing grounds and water rights.
“Shepherds, young children with their animals in the bush, people returning … to cultivate their fields, were cowardly murdered,” said Abdoul Aziz Diallo, who runs Tabital Pulaaku, a Fulani association.
Government has made no sign of a delay to July’s polls, but Saturday’s violence comes after a turbulent month in the cotton- and gold-producing nation.
The defence ministry said last week some soldiers were implicated in “gross violations” after the discovery of mass graves. The graves were found after a military crackdown on suspected jihadists and allied ethnic militia.
Mali has been in turmoil since Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamists took over its north in 2012, prompting French forces to intervene to push them back the following year. Those groups have since regained a foothold in the north and centre.