Raiders in Mali have killed at least 20 civilians in attacks on villages near the northern town of Gao, while a UN peacekeeper died in a mine explosion in the troubled region.
“Criminal terrorists” killed at least 20 civilians in several hamlets in the commune Anchawadj, a few dozen kilometres north of Gao on Saturday, said a senior police officer who asked to remain anonymous.
A local official blaming the attacks on militants put the death toll at 24, saying the killings occurred at Ebak some 35 kilometres north of Gao and neighbouring hamlets.
The official, in Gao the main town in the region, described a “general panic” in the area.
The situation in Anchawadj as “very concerning,” and civilians were fleeing the area fearing further violence, he added.
Following Saturday’s bloodshed, a mine killed a UN peacekeeper on Sunday as he was out on patrol further north, at Kidal, the head of the UN’s MINUSMA Mali force El Ghassim Wane tweeted.
A MINUSMA official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity that the peacekeeper was part of the Guinean contingent.
The region has become increasingly violent and unstable since Tuareg separatist rebels rose up against the government in 2012.
Militant fighters took advantage of their rebellion to launch their own offensive, threatening the capital Bamako in the south until a French-led force pushed them back in 2013.
The Tuareg separatists and the government agreed a peace accord in 2015, but it has yet to be applied.
So now Mali’s weak, national government faces both separatist and militant insurgencies in the north of the country.
“A good part of the Gao region and that of Menaka” are occupied by the militants, said the official in Gao. “The state must do something.”
Government stability meanwhile has been interrupted by military coups in August 2020 and May 2021.
Following his latest report into the area, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month warned that instability in Mali and Burkina Faso were undermining attempts to stabilise the region.
The security situation in the Gao region had badly deteriorated in recent months, he said.
He also voiced concern over Menaka, the eastern region bordering Niger.