36 civilians dead in militia attack on village in central Mali, Fulani group says

A militia killed 36 civilians in an attack on a village in central Mali, says the head of the West African nation's largest ethnic Fulani association.

Attack took place in area populated by ethnic Fulani, accused of al-Qaeda ties

Malian soldiers responded on the weekend to a militia attack in Koumaga, a central Mali village that is mostly ethnic Fulani. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

A community militia killed 32 civilians in an attack on a village in central Mali, then returned shortly after Malian soldiers left and killed four more, the head of the West African nation's largest ethnic Fulani association said late Sunday.

Mali's government earlier in the day confirmed the first attack and said 16 people were killed, as the Fulani ethnic group faces growing pressure over accusations of links to al-Qaeda extremists.

The death tolls differed because many bodies had been buried by the time Malian soldiers responded, Abdoul Aziz Diallo with the Tabital Pulaku association told The Associated Press. 

The original attack occurred Saturday, when militia members killed herders outside Koumaga before entering and "starting to fire on the villagers," Diallo said. 

As soon as Malian soldiers left the village Sunday afternoon, militia members returned, killing a man and his three sons, Diallo said. 

Three Fulani men sell traditional fabric on a road in Sevare, Mali. (Adama Diarra/Reuters)

Koumaga village has the reputation of being the birthplace of a number of al-Qaeda-linked extremists. Such fighters have been attacking security forces and a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali regularly since 2015. 

The first group of Canadian peacekeepers is arriving in Mali this week to aid in that mission — one of the most dangerous in the world.

The growing insecurity is a key concern ahead of the July 29 election. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is running again as president.

Concerns have arisen over alleged abuses by Malian security forces during counterterror operations in Fulani-majority areas where extremists linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS have carried out attacks and recruited locals as fighters.

Last week, Mali's government acknowledged allegations by the Fulani association and others that soldiers had entered another village, Nantaka, separated out 25 Fulani men and killed them. 

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is one of the most dangerous in the world. Dozens of peacekeepers have have been killed since 2013. (Moustapha Diallo/Reuters)

Mali's government also confirmed the existence of three graves discovered by residents outside the village and said it would investigate. 

The vast majority of civilians reported killed in counterterror operations have been Fulani, and human rights groups have warned that abuses risk pushing villagers into joining extremist groups. 

Mali is part of a five-nation regional force launched a year ago to counter the growing extremist threat in the vast Sahel region. 

The international effort to reverse the worsening security and human rights situation is a daunting task, one high-level Canadian Forces soldier told CBC's Adrienne Arsenault in Mali.

"This is one of the most complicated tasks we have had to do," said Lt.-Col. Tom Murphy, commanding officer of the joint task force support component.