By BABA AHMED
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Recent attacks by jihadi rebels in central Mali have killed 132 civilians, the government announced Monday.
The killings happened when several villages in the Bankass area were attacked on Saturday and Sunday, the government said in a statement Monday.
The government said the attacks were carried out by jihadi rebels of the Katiba group.
The attacks had earlier been reported by Moulaye Guindo, the mayor of Bankass, the biggest town near the attacked villages.
The attacks show that Islamic extremist violence is spreading from Mali’s north to more central areas like Bankass.
For several weeks extremist rebels in central Mali have been blocking the road between the northern city of Gao and Mopti in central Mali.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali issued a statement about the attacks on Twitter saying it is concerned by “attacks against civilians in the Bandiagara region (the area of central Mali) perpetrated by extremist groups. These attacks have reportedly caused casualties and displacement of populations.”
In a separate incident, a U.N. peacekeeper died on Sunday from injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device, the U.N. mission to Mali said in a statement.
The head of the U.N. Mission to Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, said that since the beginning of 2022, several attacks have killed U.N. uniformed peacekeepers.
He said that attacks on peacekeepers can constitute war crimes under international law and reaffirmed the mission’s commitment to supporting peace and security in Mali.
Since the beginning of the year, several hundred civilians have died in attacks in central and northern Mali. The attacks are blamed on jihadi rebels as well as the Malian army, according to a report by the human rights division of the U.N. mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali began in 2013, after France led a military intervention to oust extremist rebels who had taken over cities and major towns in northern Mali the year before. The mission now has about roughly 12,000 troops in Mali and an additional 2,000 police and other officers. More than 270 peacekeepers have died in Mali, making it the U.N.’s deadliest peacekeeping mission, say officials.