Mali Dismisses Army Commanders After Deadly Attack on Villages

(Bloomberg) -- Mali’s government dismissed several high-ranking military commanders after a deadly attack in central Mali Saturday that claimed 134 lives and it ordered the ethnic Dogon militia it believes to be behind the massacre to be disbanded.

“We have taken a series of strong measures,“ Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, told state-broadcaster ORTM on Sunday. “We have ordered the militia Dan na Amassagou to dissolve and moved to restructure and reinforce the security forces starting with the top army commanders."

The attack on three ethnic Fulani villages in Mali’s central Mopti region is the latest clash in an increasingly violent conflict fueled by Islamist extremism. At least 134 civilians were killed and another 55 were hurt, the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Mali said in a statement on its website.

Communal conflict in Mali and other West African nations is being stoked by a toxic combination of climate change, population growth and state neglect and being exploited by Islamist insurgencies, which have drawn the intervention of French and UN troops. While attacks between farmers and herders, who are predominantly Fulani, date back generations, the scale of the recent violence is unprecedented and spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso.

“It’s a massacre, they attacked the village killing over 100 people and injuring dozens,” said Bara Sankare, a Fulani leader in Mopti. The village of Ogossagou, the main focus of the attack, was burned down and its chief was killed, Bankass Mayor Moulaye Guindo said.

A week ago, militants linked to al-Qaeda killed 23 Malian soldiers in an assault on an army base in the village of Dioura, also in the Mopti region.

Those responsible for the latest attack are believed to be Dozo, or local hunters, said Boubacar Diallo, a spokesman for the defense ministry. Following a cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government ordered the militia Dan na Amassagou to hand over its weapons. The government replaced 11 army commanders, including the chief of army staff.

“We will use all means available – governmental, military and judicial -- to investigate this attack and hold the perpetrators responsible,” Maiga said by telephone from Bamako.

Mali has been engulfed in conflict since a loose alliance of ethnic Tuareg separatists and Islamist fighters with ties to Algeria and Libya seized large stretches of the north in 2012. A French military intervention succeeded in pushing back the insurgents a year later, but al-Qaeda-linked militants are now encroaching on the more densely populated central region and increasing tension between local communities.

A delegation of the UN Security Council arrived in Mali on Friday for talks with authorities about progress on a peace process.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.