In towns recaptured from rebels and near the border where refugees from the north have been fleeing, human rights groups have reported a number of cases of summary executions of Arabs or Tuareg thought to be associated with rebels.
The French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, finally admitted that it was likely that Malian troops carried out summary executions in Mali. However, he also said that France could count on the commanders of the Malian army to control the troops with regard to revenge killings. Le Drian said that there was “no question of us condoning the same kind of actions which we condemn when committed by the terrorists.”
Not condoning them is not exactly the same as stopping them. It may be difficult for the French to see to it that Malian commanders are able to control their troops. Back in September last year, the Malian military, summarily executed a group of unarmed Muslim clerics at a border crossing who were bound for a conference in Bamako, the capital. They had papers indicating their mission.
Now there are increasing reports of minority groups who have fled the north being executed if they do not have ID cards. The Malian army first said that no army was perfect but now they have promised to court-martial any soldiers found guilty of the executions.
Rebels have now been driven out of several towns they formerly held. In those towns too, there is growing evidence of reprisal killings that target Tuareg and Arabs. Entire communities now fear collective punishment as they are associated by the Malian security forces with Islamic extremists or Tuareg rebels.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), reported to Al Jazeera that it had confirmed at least 11 summary executions and is investigating dozens of other cases as well. The documentation was of killings in the town of Sevare on January 9th and 10th
Florent Geel, head of the Africa desk of the FIDH, said that the victims were suspected of being supporters or members of armed rebels. Three were executed inside a military base, one was killed in a hospital, and a third at a bus stop according to Geel. Two Tuareg men were killed in the town of Niono both Human Rights Watch and FIDH report.
Eyewitnesses to the Niono incident report that the two men were taken from their homes on January 18 and executed within the compound where they lived. The killers wore Mali army uniforms and drove military vehicles. A researcher at HRW told Al Jazeera that the incident appears to be a targeted killing. If President Obama can carry out targeted killing thousands of miles from the battlefield where people are killed without benefit of judge, jury, or charge, surely one should not be surprised if the Malian security forces feel justified in doing the same in a battle area.
Geel said that Arab and Tuareg groups are terrified that they will be hunted down as their communities suffer collective punishment as the army perceives them as supporting armed rebels. Geel said that there is a history of reprisals. Considerable numbers of Tuareg in the Malian army had defected to support the MNLA in the north. Malian authorities have a hotline where residents can report anyone they think is behaving suspiciously. This is an invitation for locals to incite the army against newcomers from the north.
There are also pro-government militia being formed who gather lists of people thought to have links to the MNLA or Islamist groups. Geel noted:“The nature of this war is asymmetric, with civilians who look like fighters and fighters who look like civilians.”
Colonel Kone, head of he Malian military's press office, refused to discuss any details about the death of anyone in the fighting. Kone also dismissed concerns about distinguishing civilians from members of armed groups.“We only have one enemy [here in Mali]; terrorists and terrorism. As long as a single terrorist is alive, humanity will not be happy. That means eliminating all terrorists and all forms of terrorism.”
While this is hardly a helpful response it is more than the French military were willing to say. Al Jazeera was not able to obtain an interview with military officials and they were unavailable for comment.
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