U.N. says Mali army chief left village unprotected before massacre

THE former head of Mali’s armed forces left the village of Ogossagou unprotected earlier this year despite numerous warnings of an imminent massacre in which 35 people died, according to a United Nations report.

The incident highlights a failure by Mali’s security forces to protect civilians that is undermining efforts to halt spiralling ethnic and jihadist violence in West Africa’s Sahel region, it said.

In February, army chief Keba Sangare allowed a military unit tasked with protecting Ogossagou in central Mali to withdraw despite repeated telephone calls and messages about a likely attack, according to the report seen by Reuters on Friday ahead of its official release.

Just ten hours later, an ethnic Dogon militia raided the village of Fulani herders, killing 35, including women and children as young as four.

“Victims were chased into bushes, and some were mutilated and others decapitated,” said the report compiled by the U.N.’s panel of experts on Mali.

A year earlier, the massacre of 160 civilians in Ogossagou had prompted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to order an army unit be positioned in the area to protect the village.

Sangare “gave a false assurance to his hierarchy, including the Minister of Defence, that the unit would not leave before the arrival of the replacement unit”, according to the report.

The army did not respond to a request for comment. Sangare could not be reached for comment.

Following the attack Sangare was suspended and later replaced, but the incident added to public anger over the authorities’ perceived incompetence that has led to large-scale protests this summer calling for Keita’s resignation.

Mali has struggled to regain stability since a 2012 uprising by Tuaregs in the north was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants. But despite the presence of thousands of peacekeepers, Islamist groups have sprung back, stoking ethnic rivalries to boost recruitment and destabilise the region. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.