Mali has announced a murder inquiry after an outcry in neighboring Mauritania over the death of Mauritanian civilians in a border area, but contested allegations its troops were to blame.
On Tuesday, Mauritania accused Mali’s army of “recurring criminal acts” after a number of its citizens went missing near the border.
It gave no further details but a Mauritanian MP said at least 15 people had died in a zone south of Adel Bagrou in eastern Mauritania.
Audio recordings on social media, attributed to eyewitnesses who have not been authenticated, say 30 people have disappeared and blame Malian soldiers.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga confirmed that “murders” had occurred.
Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita has spoken with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, he said.
Goita has ordered an inquiry and “decided to send a high-level mission to Nouakchott as soon as possible,” Maiga said.The government “vigorously condemns these criminal acts, which seek to damage the excellent quality of relations between our two countries,” he added.
“No effort will be spared” to find those guilty but “at this point no evidence implicates the Malian armed forces, which respect human rights and always behave professionally,” Maiga said.
Questions about the Malian army were raised after a previous incident in January, when seven Mauritanians were killed in the same area.
The Malian authorities said at the time they would open an inquiry and insisted nothing implicated the country’s armed forces. The status of the probe has not been made public.
Mali and Mauritania are key countries in the poor and troubled Sahel region of West Africa.
Mali is in the grip of a decade-old security crisis, with its poorly-equipped armed forces struggling with insurgents, ethnic violence and criminal gangs.
The country is in the hands of a military junta that seized power in August 2020, toppling elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after a wave of public protests.
The junta is seeking closer ties with Mauritania to help ease the impact of an embargo by Mali’s neighbors over failures to meet a promise to stage elections.
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