German minister speaks of 'atrocities' after Mali operation

Western governments question mission against Islamists in the Sahel nation

Mali's government says more than 200 terrorists were killed in a military operation against Islamist groups, but this has been questioned by western partners. AFP

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht on Saturday reiterated her doubts about maintaining the German armed forces' commitment in Mali, in a trip to the African country, during which she spoke of "atrocities" committed in Moura.

Mali's military-dominated government says it "neutralised" 203 Islamists in Moura, but witnesses interviewed by media and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say soldiers actually killed scores of civilians.

The question was "if it is this regime that we want to support", Ms Lambrecht said after a meeting with German soldiers in northern Gao, her ministry told journalists.

"We see that Malian soldiers are being trained in a tremendous way by highly motivated and skilled German soldiers, and then they go on missions with these capabilities, for example with Russian forces, even with mercenaries," the minister added.

"And the question then arises of whether this can be compatible with our values, especially if we then have to witness atrocities like in Moura," she said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday cast doubt on Mali's account of events in Moura.

"The authorities in Bamako announce 200 terrorists killed, without civilian casualties. I have a hard time believing, I have a hard time understanding, I have a hard time accepting these explanations," he said.

"There needs to be a United Nations investigation and we demand this," he added.

In February, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of thousands of troops deployed in Mali under France's anti-Islamist mission in the Sahel.

In a report, Human Rights Watch said Malian soldiers and foreign fighters had executed 300 civilians between March 27-31 in Moura.

Malian forces were operating in tandem with white foreign soldiers, Human Rights Watch said, who are believed to be Russian because witness accounts refer to them as non-French-speaking.

Russia has supplied what are officially described as military instructors to Mali.

However, the US, France, and others, say the instructors are operatives from the Russian private security company Wagner.

Bamako denies the presence of mercenaries from Wagner in Mali, acknowledging only the presence of Russian "instructors" and "trainers" under a bilateral co-operation agreement with Moscow dating from the 1960s.

The UN special envoy for Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, on Thursday called on the Malian authorities to provide access to the area.

Ruled by a military junta since August 2020, Mali has been in turmoil since 2012.

Islamist attacks have spread from the north to the centre of the country and into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Updated: April 10, 2022, 4:12 AM