Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 16 Tuareg civilians in attacks in northern Mali, days after 40 Tuareg were killed in similar raids on neighbouring villages, local authorities said.
The attacks occurred on Tuesday in Tindibawen, east of Menaka near the Niger border and in a nearby village, Menaka Mayor Nanout Kotia told Reuters.
Local lawmaker Bajan Ag Hamatou said 16 Tuareg civilians were killed in the attack. The MSA-GATIA, a Tuareg militia coalition in northern Mali, said jihadists executed 17 civilians, including elderly people burnt alive in their homes.
“Most of those killed belong to the Imghad group, the ethnicity of the majority of GATIA fighters,” said Kotia.
Violence escalated in recent months as jihadist groups, once confined to the remote north of the west African state, exploit ethnic tensions to recruit Fulani herders and extend their presence further south.
Black Fulani herders have come into conflict with mostly lighter-skinned Tuareg pastoralists over access to scarce water points. Some joined the ranks of Islamic State’s local affiliate, active in the Menaka region.
The rising violence has cast doubt on the feasibility of elections scheduled for the end of July, in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is expected to seek a second term.
The Fulani community along the Mali-Niger border accuses Tuareg militia of committing executions. Last week Fulani leaders said MSA-GATIA summarily executed or arbitrarily arrested scores of young Fulani between March 30 and April 7.
MSA-GATIA says it only targets armed militants and never civilians. French forces in Mali, who co-operate with MSA-GATIA to fight the jihadists, say they are not aware of executions committed by the militia.