Soldiers in Mali have been responsible for killing at least 71 civilians since early December, a leading rights group said in a report on Tuesday.
Mali’s military government contested the findings by New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Army abuses in the centre and southwest of Mali, including executions of the elderly and children, have risen as soldiers attempt to counter an Islamist insurgency that has swept across the country since 2012.
Over the same period, Islamist militants killed 36 civilians, Human Rights Watch said.
Mali’s government did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
It told Human Rights Watch that it was investigating a number of abuses outlined in the report but denied involvement in the gravest incident – a mass execution this month in which the charred bodies of 35 civilians were found in the Ségou region, some with holes in the back of their heads.
Mali’s troubles date back to 2012 when jihadists took over a northern separatist uprising. Former colonial power France sent in troops which beat back the insurgents in 2013, but by 2015 armed groups linked to al Qaeda had rebounded and unleashed a wave of violence.
The situation has led to a breakdown in democracy. A military junta snatched power in 2020 in part because of frustrations over the government’s inability to take control.
The military has in some cases acknowledged that its forces were implicated in executions and other abuses in recent years, but few have faced criminal charges.