The Burkina Faso military launched an investigation after a rights group accused the army of carrying out executions during a recent operation in which nearly 150 militants were killed, government said.
The army said in February it killed 146 militants in response to an attack on civilians, part of a broader response to worsening Islamist and inter-ethnic violence across northern Burkina since last year.
Human Rights Watch said later some of those killed were executed in front of their families. On Wednesday, a local rights group cited witnesses as saying 60 of the dead were summarily executed.
Analysts are concerned such abuse could fuel spiralling instability in previously peaceful Burkina. In neighbouring Mali, jihadist groups tap into ethnic rivalries and anger with the central government to recruit.
In a statement, the Burkinabe government said the army was committed to human rights and for the first time said it “took note of the allegations and assures investigations are ongoing into the facts”.
“While waiting for results of the investigations by the military justice system, the version of the facts is the one communicated by the military,” it added.
Government acknowledge some abuses in the past and has pledged to take action.
The Burkina Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights (MBDHP) said it visited sites of the February anti-militant operation and interviewed witnesses.
“Of the 146 terrorists the military said it killed, MBDHP identified 60 victims. All 60 were summarily executed,” MBDHP President Chrysogone Zougmore told reporters.
Thousands fled their homes as a result of militant attacks and reprisals by the Burkinabe army, HRW said in a report.
Burkina declared a state of emergency in several provinces in December following an attack by an al Qaeda-linked group. The state of emergency was extended by six months in January after an outbreak of ethnic violence left dozens dead.
Abuses by state forces present a dilemma for Western powers, including former colonial master France and the United States, which deployed thousands of troops to West Africa’s Sahel region to help local governments counter al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups.