“I was at the market when the shooting started,” said a 28-year-old man describing events in the village of Ouenkoro, Mali.
“I saw three military helicopters flying low, one of them firing. People fled in all directions. I took my motorbike and rode as fast as I could. I saw two people falling on the ground behind me, shot from the helicopters.”
Malian armed forces are committing serious abuses like this in village after village in their military operations against Islamist armed groups. The military has summarily executed and forcibly disappeared civilians, as well.
They are not acting alone, however.
Foreign fighters are assisting Mali’s armed forces in these operations – and taking part in the abuses, too. They’re white men who don’t speak French, and witnesses to their destruction describe them as “Russians” or “Wagner.”
The mercenary outfit under Yevgeny Prigozhin is, of course, better known both for its long-running brutality in Ukraine and a short-run insurrection against Moscow in June. But Prigozhin has acknowledged Wagner’s presence in Africa, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has a admitted at least twice the Wagner Group “provides security services” to Mali’s government.
What these “services” look like can be seen in the assault on the village of Séguéla, Mali, in February. Survivors describe how a large number of “white” foreign fighters in uniform carried out the attack, which resulted in beatings, looting, and the arrest of 17 men. Eight of their bodies were later found.
The overall situation in Mali is made more worrying by the impending withdraw of the 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, at the request of Mali’s government. One part of the UN mission has been to monitor human rights violations.
The future absence of that international attention may please both Mali’s forces and its Russian allies – and also their enemies, the abusive Islamist armed groups. But it will do nothing to help Mali’s long-suffering people.