When mutinous soldiers ousted Burkina Faso's democratically elected president in late January, they vowed to do a better job of securing the Sahelian country from attacks linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State. But violence has only increased over the past months, draining public confidence in the junta, threatening coastal West African states, and worsening a humanitarian crisis that has now displaced almost two million people–around one in 10 Burkinabé.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) issued a new report Aug. 30 on the Wagner Group's activities in the Central African Republic and Mali, and it makes for chilling reading. The Russian mercenary group has targeted civilians in more than half of its operations in CAR (where it began operating in 2018) and over 70% in Mali (where it arrived last year). Its CAR deployment was initially limited to training the national armed forces, but it took on a direct combat role in late 2020 as rebels threatened the capital. It won praise for helping the state capture major towns, but abuses have now angered large parts of the civilian population. In jihadist-hit Mali, the mercenaries have also been involved in a number of high-profile abuses—mostly notably in the central town of Moura, where hundreds of non-combatants were massacred earlier this year.
Scores of Malians demonstrated June 21 in the town of Bankass, in central Mopti region, to demand state protection after more than 130 civilians were killed by presumed jihadist militants in three nearby villages over the past days. The massacres in Diallassagou, Dianweli and Deguessagou localities are said to have been carried out by the Katiba Macina, a militant group led by Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa. The gunmen burned huts and stole cattle in addition to killing villagers. The Katiba Macina is apparently an offshoot of the Qaeda-aligned Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (JNIM). However, in Mopti region, traditionally known to the Fulani as Macina, the violence appears to have taken on an ethnic cast. In March 2019, more than 160 Fulani civilians were massacred at the village of Ogossagou. (Africa News, Africa News, TRT, AFP, El Pais)
At least two were killed May 24 as security forces clashed with protesting gold miners at Burkina Faso's western Houndé commune, Tuy province. The protesters were demanding the release of 12 of their comrades who had been arrested a week earlier, when informal miners angered by government moves to expel their camps overran and ransacked the facilities of Houndé Gold Operation, a subsidiary of the UK-based multinational Endeavour Mining. (AfricaNews, AFP) Rescue workers meanwhile recovered the bodies of four miners who had gone missing after floodwaters submerged a zinc mine operated by Canada's Trevali Mining at Perkoa, in nearby Sanguié province. (CNN, BBC News Gahuza)
Lawmakers in Niger have approved a bill that clears the way for more foreign troops to be deployed in the country, which is fighting several jihadist insurgencies. The move comes as French and European forces withdraw from neighboring Mali, having fallen out with the ruling junta there. Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum had already announced plans in February to absorb some of the departing soldiers. But passing the bill through parliament formalizes the decision, amid rising anti-French sentiment in the country and the wider region.
The junta in Mali is accusing France of spying and subversion after the French military used a drone to film footage that Paris says shows Russian mercenaries burying bodies in a mass grave near a military base. The French government says the bodies were buried outside the base at Gossi, Tombouctou region, in a scheme to falsely accuse its departing forces of leaving behind mass graves. Video from the drone was released after pixelated images appeared on social media of corpses being buried in sand, with text accusing France of atrocities in Mali. France claims the bodies were brought to Gossi from Hombori, immediately to the south, where Malian troops and Russian mercenaries have been carrying out an operation against jihadist insurgents. The junta has acknowledged that 18 militants were killed in the operation. (The Guardian, AfricaNews, BBC News, Al Jazeera)
The European Union announced April 11 that it is halting its military training mission in Mali, citing the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, who are said to have committed a slew of abuses in recent weeks alongside the Malian armed forces. The training mission, known as EUTM Mali, was launched in 2013 to help restore state authority after much of the country's north had been captured by jihadist and separatist rebels. Thousands of Malian troops benefited from courses, although the soldiers were not vetted for involvement in rights abuses before their training, or monitored for violations after. The EU was therefore accused of supporting an army that has killed more civilians than jihadists in some years. The EUTM suspension comes two months after France announced the withdrawal of its counter-jihadist forces in Mali following its feud with the country's ruling junta. Humanitarian needs are deepening amid the diplomatic and security shifts, while rights abuses have exploded since Wagner Group's arrival.
Malian armed forces and associated foreign soldiers are believed to have summarily executed an estimated 300 civilian men in a town they occupied in late March, Human Rights Watch says in a new report April 5, calling it "worst single atrocity reported in Mali's decade-long armed conflict." The men were detained at a marketplace in the central town of Moura, Mopti region, during a military operation that began March 27. Army troops and foreign soldiers—identified by several sources as Russians—are said by witnesses and survivors to have broken the detainees up into small groups and marched them to an area outside town before putting them to death.