At least 12 civilians were killed in northern Mali in an attack on a market that also involved the shooting of a Malian soldier, military sources said.
The attack took place Saturday in the town of Boulikessi near the border with Burkina Faso.
“Malian troops under the G5 Sahel command are at the centre of this incident,” a military source from the joint force of soldiers from five Sahel countries told AFP on Sunday, May 21.
“One of the soldiers had been attacked by an armed man at the market in Boulikessi. Afterwards, in circumstances not yet clear, at least 12 civilians at the site were killed,” the source said.
A Malian military source added that it was difficult to contact the region by phone and that an investigation was under way “to find out exactly how many civilians were killed and who shot the soldier.”
Contacted by AFP, a former Malian minister, who comes from the region, said that witnesses had claimed the incident was due to military “blunders” and that “more than 15 civilians were killed.”
“According to two witnesses, an armed man shot a Malian soldier who was now fighting for his life,” the ex-minister said, adding that he was waiting for confirmation of the details of the incident.
Mali’s defense minister Tienan Coulibaly could not been reached for comment.
The Malian army is often accused of making arbitrary arrests and carrying out extra-judicial executions in its fight against jihadists in the north of the country.
France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces drive Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists out of the north. The U.N.’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force has around 12,000 military and 1,900 police personnel deployed from U.N. partner nations, and is considered the U.N.’s most dangerous.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed last year to set up the 5,000-strong G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops to work alongside French troops and U.N. peacekeepers.
Large tracts of the country remain lawless despite a peace accord signed with ethnic Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists. The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.
Defense ministers from the five Sahel countries met earlier this month in Burkina Faso’s capital to formally finalize steps to launch joint operations.
The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss funding for the force in a meeting on May 23.
With reporting from AFP