The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, known by its French acronym MINUSMA, has demanded the country’s military government grant it access to the village of Moura, where rights groups and witnesses say the Malian army and Russian mercenaries killed hundreds of civilians during an anti-terrorism operation in late March.
The top U.N. envoy in Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that Mali’s military government has so far denied the request.
Wane said in the statement MINUSMA was only allowed to fly over the site on April 3 and that it was “imperative” that authorities give access to the site, in line with its mandate.
In a press release Thursday, MINUSMA repeated “deep concern at the allegations of serious violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law” in Moura.
Mali’s army on April 1 claimed to have killed 203 “terrorists” during the late March operation.
However, Human Rights Watch, in a report Tuesday, cited witnesses saying Mali’s army and foreign fighters identified as Russians killed 300 civilians, some of them suspected Islamic fighters.
Bamako claims Russia sent military “instructors” to Mali to help with its fight against Islamist insurgents.
But European governments and the United States say the Russians are with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group of mercenaries, which U.N. experts accuse of numerous abuses, from Syria to the Central African Republic.
VOA spoke to a man, who for security reasons did not wish his name be used, who was detained with others in Moura for five days during the operation.
He said he witnessed “white soldiers” who spoke neither French nor English sorting men into groups.
He said he then saw Malian armed forces execute about 12 to 15 of the men.
Moura residents told VOA that while some extremists were likely among those killed, the vast majority were innocent villagers.
Mali’s military tribunal has said it is investigating the events in Moura.
The U.N. mission in Mali in past investigations has found that civilians are often wrongly targeted as militants.
MINUSMA investigators a year ago found that a French airstrike on the central village of Bounty, Mali, killed 19 people – 16 of them civilians.