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11.06.2019 Mali

Mali premier visits massacre site as survivors recount ordeal

By Serge Daniel and Kassim Traore
Scores of people were killed and homes were destroyed in the attack on Sobane Da, a Dogon village in volatile central Mali.  By STRINGER (AFP)
JUN 11, 2019 MALI
Scores of people were killed and homes were destroyed in the attack on Sobane Da, a Dogon village in volatile central Mali. By STRINGER (AFP)

The prime minister of Mali visited the site of one of the country's worst massacres on Tuesday, seeking to reassure terrified residents after an attack that left scores of dead and stoked fears for the fragile Sahel country.

The hours-long assault targeted a village in a largely ethnic Dogon enclave in central Mali.

It bore the hallmarks of violence, much of it driven by ethnic tensions, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the last 18 months.

Ninety-five people were killed, according to an early toll that remained unconfirmed on Tuesday.

Premier Boubou Cisse's visit sought to "convey the support of the nation and check that security measures have been strengthened," his office told AFP.

Graves have been dug for the victims of Sobane Da. Ninety-five people were killed, according to a provisional toll.  By STRINGER (AFP) Graves have been dug for the victims of Sobane Da. Ninety-five people were killed, according to a provisional toll. By STRINGER (AFP)

The attack on the village of Sobane Da -- also called Sobane-Kou -- began on Sunday evening and continued well into the night, according to witnesses.

Survivors described attackers arriving on motorbikes and in trucks and surrounding the village of roughly 300 people.

They murdered anyone who tried to escape and put their homes to the torch, the survivors said.

A provisional death toll of 95 was given by the government on Monday, although this could be revised, with different officials giving varying figures.

On Monday a security source said the Dogon village had been "virtually wiped out".

The killing came less than three months after nearly 160 members of the Fulani ethnic group were slaughtered by a group identified as Dogon.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a visit to Switzerland and was expected to return to Bamako Tuesday.

"This country cannot be run by a cycle of revenge and vendetta," he told ORTM public television in Geneva on Monday.

He called on Malians to unite to "allow our nation to survive, because this is a question of survival."

Shocked survivors

The assailants "opened fire on anything that moved," the village chief, Gouno Dara, who succeeded in fleeing, told AFP.

"They shouted 'Allah akbar, Allah akbar,'" or "God is greatest," he said.

"They then set fire to the storehouses, the homes and took the sheep and the cattle. We have nothing left. Pregnant woman are among the victims, and children too. We have lost everything."

Another survivor, Amadou Togo, said some people had had their throats cut or been disembowelled.

"No-one was spared -- women, children, old people."

After seven hours of bloodletting, the assailants left, leaving behind bodies blackened by the flames, the villagers said.

"I have lost my wife, two sons and a daughter, my father and mother," said Jean Dara, a farmer in his thirties.

Ethnic tensions

A brutal cycle of ethnic violence that has claimed hundreds of lives across the region, pitting farmers against herders.  By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP/File) A brutal cycle of ethnic violence that has claimed hundreds of lives across the region, pitting farmers against herders. By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP/File)

Despite military help from France and the UN, Mali's government is struggling to quell violence that began in the north of the country in 2012, sparked by radical Islamist and Tuareg militias.

Attacks spread to central Mali, an ethnic mosaic, after a predominantly Fulani jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.

Perceptions that the Fulani ethnic group as a whole was involved in the violence fuelled tensions with other ethnic groups such as Bambara and Dogon, and tit-for-tat strife followed.

The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Bambara and Dogon are traditionally sedentary farmers.

Map locating Sobane-Kou in Mali, where 95 people were killed during an attack overnight Sunday to Monday..  By AFP (AFP) Map locating Sobane-Kou in Mali, where 95 people were killed during an attack overnight Sunday to Monday.. By AFP (AFP)

Malian researcher Ousmane Diallo, a specialist on the region, said the details of the latest attack suggested "jihadist methods".

There are currently about 14,700 troops and police deployed in Mali.  By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP/File) There are currently about 14,700 troops and police deployed in Mali. By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP/File)

But he cautioned that the reality might be more complex, and that the attackers' motivations remained unclear.

On May 16, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, announced it had recorded "at least 488 deaths" in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 2018.

In the bloodiest raid, about 160 Fulani villagers were slaughtered on March 23 at Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, by suspected Dogon hunters.

According to MINUSMA, armed Fulanis had "caused 63 deaths" among civilians in the Mopti region, also since January 2018.

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.

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