by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) Oct 24, 2012
Several Tuareg civilians have been killed by uniformed men in Diabali in central Mali, the site of a mass shooting by Malian troops in September, regional media and Tuareg officials said Wednesday.
Mauritanian news agency Sahara Media cited a witness who saw "a Malian army patrol coming from the Diabali barracks" stop a group of the nomads heading towards the Mauritania border, and arrest nine of them.
A Malian security source told the news agency that army vehicles returning to the barracks contained the bodies of four of the Tuareg, while the other five were missing.
This was confirmed to AFP by members of the Tuareg community in Diabali.
The Malian government has refused to comment on the reports.
"Nine Tuareg civilians were kidnapped (on Monday) and assassinated by the Malian army on the pretext that they were close to the MNLA," said Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, a leader of the Tuareg rebel movement, the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) who lives in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
"The soldiers kidnapped them 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Sokolo (near the remote town of Diabali) and took them to their base in Diabali where they were brutally murdered," Assaleh told AFP.
Sahara Media reported that the unit implicated in the alleged murders was the same involved in the Septembre 8 massacre of 16 Muslim men reportedly headed to a religious conference in Bamako.
Army officials initially said troops were forced to open fire on the men after a vehicle failed to stop at a checkpoint, but a Malian soldier later said the shootings were a mistake.
Half of those killed were from Mauritania, whose president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz denounced the shooting as a "ghastly crime".
Malian troops are on high alert after hardline Islamists seized the country's north in the chaos following a March coup in the capital Bamako, hundreds of kilometres south.
The putsch was carried out by soldiers angry over the government's handling of a Tuareg separatist rebellion launched by the MNLA in January which completely overwhelmed the army.
Armed Islamist groups, backed by the north African Al-Qaeda branch, piggy-backed on the Tuareg rebellion to seize control of the vast arid zone before chasing out their erstwhile allies.
The international community is working hard to come up with a plan to assist Mali to win back its northern territory from the extremists, who have implemented strict sharia law, murdering, stoning and whipping transgressors.
Western governments are fearful that the vast desert could become a new haven and training ground for terrorists.
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