Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Mali’s capital to demand an end to attacks in the centre of the country where there has been an increase in ethnic violence.
Police said 3,000 attended the rally on Friday in Bamako, while organisers put the number of the demonstrators at least 5,000.
Ethnic tensions in central Mali have surged since an armed group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.
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The group recruits mainly from among the Fulani – primarily cattle breeders and traders – and it has clashed with the Dogon and Bambara – traditionally sedentary farmers who have formed their own self-defence militias.
Friday’s demonstration was organised by a youth association demanding the disarming of militia and for people to “say no to hate” whatever their ethnicity.
“Too much blood has been spilled. It has to stop or there will be no life left in the centre of Mali,” demonstrator Habitatou Diallo said.
There has been a swathe of mass killings in recent months. At least 488 Fulani civilians died in attacks carried out in the central regions of Mopti and Segou between January 1, 2018, and May 16, 2019, according to the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In the same period, armed Fulanis had “caused 63 deaths” among civilians in the Mopti region.
In late March, 160 Fulanis were slaughtered, in the one the bloodiest attacks in Mali’s history, while fresh ethnic violence erupted this week leading to 41 further deaths in the ethnic Dogon villages of Gangafani and Yoro – the latest in a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between the warring communities despite the army sending in troops.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who rejects the idea of an “inter-ethnic conflict”, on Thursday named the former interim president Dioncounda Traore as high representative for the region to report back to him.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, said on Friday that some 2,800 people fleeing the violence had taken refuge in the town of Bandiagara in the east of Mopti region where aid including utensils and bedding had been distributed.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix, visiting the country on Friday, said in a statement “the situation has reached what one could call an alert level with the dreadful massacres of the past few weeks and days.
“We are ready to increase our efforts to support Malian efforts” to stem the unrest, he added, while stressing that “there has to be a Malian solution.”
The United Nations Security Council is due to examine next Thursday whether to extend the world body’s peacekeeping mission in Mali.