BAMAKO (Reuters) – Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 16 Tuareg civilians in attacks in northern Mali, just days after 40 Tuaregs were killed during similar raids on neighboring villages, local authorities said on Wednesday.
The attacks occurred on Tuesday in the village of Tindibawen, 160 km (100 miles) east of the town of Menaka near the border with Niger, and in a nearby village, Menaka Mayor Nanout Kotia told Reuters.
Local lawmaker Bajan Ag Hamatou said 16 Tuareg civilians had been killed in the attack. The MSA-GATIA, a Tuareg militia coalition in northern Mali, said jihadists had executed 17 civilians, including elderly people burnt alive in their homes.
“Most of those killed belong to the Imghad group, which is the ethnicity of the majority of GATIA fighters,” said Kotia.
Violence has escalated in recent months as jihadist groups, once confined to the remote north of the west African state, have exploited ethnic tensions to recruit Fulani herders and extend their presence farther south.
Black Fulani herders have come into conflict with mostly lighter-skinned Tuareg pastoralists over access to scarce water points. Some have joined the ranks of Islamic State’s local affiliate, which is active in the Menaka region.
The rising violence has cast doubt on the feasibility of elections scheduled for the end of July, in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is expected to seek a second term.
The Fulani community along the Mali-Niger border has also accused Tuareg militia of committing executions. Last week Fulani leaders said MSA-GATIA had summarily executed or arbitrarily arrested scores of young Fulani between March 30 and April 7.
MSA-GATIA says it only targets armed militants and never civilians. French forces in Mali, who cooperate with MSA-GATIA to battle the jihadists, also say they are not aware of executions committed by the militia.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Aaron Ross/Mark Heinrich