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Six bodies found after ethnic killings in Mali

The findings allude to the first concrete evidence for the ethnic killings

Published: Updated:

The body of an old man known as The Last Arab of Timbuktu, the symbol of ethnic minority Arabs who died or disappeared in a backlash against the al-Qaeda occupation, has been found buried in the desert.

The Associated Press' discovery of the body of Ali Ould Kabbad and five others provides the first concrete evidence for the ethnic killings, which human rights groups have blamed on Mali's military. In each case, the victims were last seen taken away by Malian soldiers at gunpoint.

Mali's government, which has been promised $4.2 billion in world aid, has denied the killings, and declined to comment further. Mali's military reacted angrily.

"You have no proof. Show me the proof!" said Col. Diarran Kone, spokesman for Mali's ministry of defense. After hearing that the AP found the bodies, he added: "We have nothing more to say about this."

The latest racial violence dates back to a 10-month-long al-Qaeda-led occupation of northern Mali, during which the Arabic-speaking fighters gave key posts to the ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs who shared their light skin tone. Traditionally nomadic Arabs and Tuaregs make up about 10 percent of Mali's 15.9 million people, the majority of whom are black.

The backlash against them started after France sent troops into its former colony in January to drive out al-Qaeda and allow Mali's army to return. Tens of thousands of Arabs and Tuaregs fled.

Those who stayed paid with their lives. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say at least 24 people were killed by the military since the beginning of the year, and 11 disappeared.

During more than a dozen trips to the dunes, The Associated Press dug up enough sand to spot six bodies, and then brought back families to identify the remains. Soldiers, residents and even children helped direct the AP to the locations, but all asked that their names not to be used out of fear for their lives.