At least 32 civilians were killed and ten are missing following an attack in central Mali, believed to have been carried out by traditional hunters, local officials said on Sunday.
Armed Dozo hunters, linked to the Dogon ethnic group, were suspected of ambushing the isolated village of Koumaga in the Mopti region on Saturday, killing dozens of Fulani herders, including children.
“They surrounded the village, separated the Fulani people from the others and killed at least 32 civilians in cold blood,” said Abel Aziz Diallo, president of the local Tabila Pullaku association.
Another 10 people were missing, he added.
“The men were dressed in Dozo clothing but we wonder if they were all Dozo hunters,” said an elected official from the region, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Malian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Violence has increased over the past three years in central Mali between nomadic herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers, sparked by accusations of cattle grazing on Dogon land and disputes over access to land and water.
Central Mali is a vast area where the state is near-absent and jihadists, blamed for exacerbating the dispute, roam with little constraint.
The Bambara and Dogon ethnic groups accuse the pastoralists of colluding with jihadists.
The armed forces are facing increasing accusations of arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings in their fight against the insurgents.
Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Friday insisted on “the respect of human rights by all the military, which has an obligation to protect the population”.
Mali’s unrest stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising against the state which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.
The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of Malian, French and UN forces, which are frequent targets of attacks.