UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning of a "high risk" of atrocities in Mali in a report that calls for beefing up the UN peacekeeping presence in the strife-torn center of the country.
In the report to the Security Council obtained by AFP, Guterres said he was "appalled" by the upsurge in violence and called on the government to strengthen its response to extremist groups.
"If these concerns are not addressed, there is a high risk of further escalation that could lead to the commission of atrocity crimes," Guterres wrote in the report sent to the council on Friday.
At least 157 people, including 46 children, were massacred in the central village of Ogossagou on March 23, in raids blamed on extremists stoking communal tensions.
With security worsening, Guterres recommended that there be no drawdown of the UN peacekeeping force, known as MINUSMA, despite calls by the United States for cuts to blue helmet missions worldwide.
The MINUSMA mission should be extended for a year with its troop ceiling of 13,289 unchanged along with the maximum deployment of 1,920 police, said the report.
There are currently about 14,700 troops and police deployed in Mali, which ranks as the most dangerous UN mission, with 125 peacekeepers killed in attacks since deployment in 2013.
Guterres recommended that MINUSMA strengthen its presence in the center of the country, where attacks have been the deadliest, by deploying one or two police units, or about 280 police.
In addition, a UN camp in northern Mali could be handed over to Malian forces, freeing up 650 personnel for reinforcement in the central Mopti region, the report said.
The council is set to vote on renewing MINUSMA's mandate on June 27.
MINUSMA was established after radical Islamist militias seized the north of the country in 2012. They were pushed back by French troops in 2013.
A peace agreement signed in 2015 by the Bamako government and armed groups was aimed at restoring stability. But the accord has failed to stop the violence.