World News

Mali army kills 14 jihadist suspects in 'attempted escape'

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s army said on Saturday it had killed 14 jihadist suspects who were trying to escape detention in its central region, the latest in a string of killings by the armed forces that have provoked condemnation from rights groups.

The military said in a statement that the suspects had been arrested in Dioura on April 5 and were killed the following day.

“Following an alleged attempt to escape, 14 terrorist suspects were killed on April 6 in Dioura,” the statement said. “The command has taken measures to shed light on this issue,” it said.

The statement is likely to draw the attention of human rights groups which have accused the security forces of carrying out summary executions in their campaign to secure central Mali, which has been plagued by violent Islamists and ethnic militias.

Amnesty International raised the alarm this week over reports that six people found dead in a mass grave in the central Mopti region in March had been arrested by the military three days earlier.

There has been a spate of killings and kidnappings ahead of a July presidential election which rights groups say are being conducted by the army against suspected sympathizers of jihadist groups. The government has rejected the allegations.

The violence has raised doubts about whether Mali will be able to hold credible elections in less than three months’ time.

Two Chadian peacekeepers were killed on Thursday and at least 10 others were wounded when a U.N. camp came under mortar fire in the northern Kidal region, the country’s most volatile.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said such acts “only reinforce the commitment of the United Nations to support the people and the Government of Mali in their quest for peace”.

On Friday evening, a peacekeeper was killed when two armed men in the northern city of Gao opened fire on his vehicle, the U.N. force said in a statement.

Unidentified gunmen killed one person and wounded at least two others last Wednesday in an attack on a hotel in the central town of Bandiagara regularly frequented by U.N. staff and humanitarian agency workers.

Some 65 people have been killed in 2018 by improvised explosive devices, Amnesty International estimated this week.

Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania launched a G5 Sahel taskforce last year to tackle Islamist militants in the region.

France, its main Western backer, hopes the force will enable them to start drawing down the 4,000 or so troops it has had stationed in Mali since intervening to prevent Islamists and allied Tuareg rebels taking over the country in 2013.

International donors have committed half a billion dollars to the force, but Mali remains heavily dependent on foreign firepower.

The French army said on Thursday that French and Malian troops had killed about 30 Islamist insurgents during a gun battle near the border with Niger, where Islamic State’s Saharan affiliate are known to be active.

Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Jason Neely