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“I was talking to someone and the next moment he was summoned to the execution” – Liberation

From March 27 to 31, Malian and Russian soldiers executed hundreds of unarmed people in a village in central Mali. “Liberation” met a witness, was detained for several days and forced to collect the corpses.

Shots go off, Assane recoils. He turns his gaze to the television mounted on the wall. German police officers and bandits in leather jackets exchange fire on a highway, in an afternoon soap opera. One where the bad guys collapse screaming in a final theatrical gesture. This fictional violence pulls a nervous smile from him. It must seem ridiculous to him because it differs from the horror of a real murder: banal, ugly, where the bodies bend under the bullets without a sigh. Like the summary execution, he escaped.

Slumped in a woolly couch in a house on the outskirts of Bamako, the young man is one of the first survivors of the attack on the village of Moura, in the center of Mali, to reach the capital. Assane is not his real first name. It has been edited to protect his identity. According to the Malian army, the“large-scale air-land opportunity operation” carried out from 27 to 31 March in Moura, the neutralization of “203 terrorists”. According to human rights groups, this operation would have claimed at least 300 victims, the vast majority of unarmed civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. It took Assane a few days in the car to find shelter from the massacre. Friends exfiltrated him. That day there were six of them sitting around him, on sofas or with their backs against a wall, most of them Moura’s. They listen carefully to the story of the attack on their village, which unfolds like a long catharsis.

The attack began on Sunday, March 27 at 11:20 a.m., he said. Assane, from a nearby village, was in Moura dropping off traders who came to sell their wares at the Sunday fair when he saw two helicopters hovering over the market and opened fire on panicked fugitives. He took shelter in a grocery store. “One of the helicopters dropped white soldiers east of the village and the second dropped them west, he says. They were armed to the teeth, magazines everywhere. Some had helmets, bags, camouflaged clothes. It was these soldiers who did the most damage during the five days. Anyone who tried to save themselves was killed. Those who fell had no weapons in their hands. They were innocent people.”

The hours go by and the bodies pile up

Assane is quickly captured. “I was part of the first wave of arrests. The white soldiers drove the people to the river, south of the village. We were many, between 600 and 1,000 people. They laid us face down and we stayed like that, in the sand, in full sun, until about 6pm. His face darkens, he stares at the wall. The small audience becomes more attentive. “The soldiers then asked us to stand up, then started pointing at some prisoners who said, ‘He is a jihadist’, and killed him. They observed the faces, the beards, the pants [les jihadistes obligent les hommes à porter des pantalons coupés, ndlr] and killed. They spent the night taking people from among us to execute them.”

Assane rolls a broken ring between his fingers and slides it from pinky to ring finger in a mechanical gesture. He resumed: “He was a white man with a stick who came to fetch people. He hit people on the head: “You there, get up!” until it has the desired number. Then they led them behind a house under construction, a few yards away, where a Malian soldier and another white soldier stood. They were the ones who executed. They didn’t even take the time to tie their hands or blindfold them, they just killed, some while they were still walking. One bullet and that’s it.”

Behind this house under construction, the hours pass and the bodies pile up. New helicopters land on Monday and Tuesday and drop off more Malian soldiers. They comb the village. “The Fama [Forces armées maliennes] raided from morning to night and brought new prisoners. They divided them into two groups: suspected terrorists and potential collaborators. They were quickly killing people from the first group.” Assane understands that there are two other detention centers located east and west of the village. He sometimes hears gunshots from the other side.

“At first I was very scared, Assane breathes. I was talking to someone and the next moment he was called for the execution. I thought my turn would come. But the hours turned into days and the fear disappeared.” Dismissal even frees him from the fear of questioning his jailers. A Fama interpreter then confirms what Assane suspected. These “White Soldiers” Killing His Friends speak russian† Since the beginning of the year, Russian soldiers have been cooperating with the Fama. Europe claims they are mercenaries belonging to the private security company Wagner† Bamako speaks alone “Russian Instructors” came to help the Malian army.

Five days of trial

In Moura, detainees are selected for execution several times a day and at night. Assane is not sleeping. “I saw that people I knew very well, who had nothing to do with the jihadists, who even hated them, were murdered before my eyes. Even a 10-year-old child was murdered.” The soldiers hardly give food and drink to the prisoners. Twice, Assane is ordered to return cigarettes for the group. It is above 40°C, heads are turning and the first corpses are beginning to decompose in the sun. The smell is deadly. The soldiers form two teams among the detainees. One is in charge of digging a pit, the other picking up the corpses and throwing them there. Assane, with about twenty companions, loads the carts. “The bodies were bloated and deformed, they could only be identified by their clothing.” From Wednesday to Thursday, they collect 180 bodies together with his fellow inmates. “We were so exhausted that the military had to replace us.”

On Thursday morning, redemption finally comes. “Whoever wants to live, lays down arms. If you want to die like the one in the pit, go back to the jihadists and we will come and kill you again.” warns a Malian soldier before boarding the helicopter. Dehydrated, exhausted from five days of ordeal, Assane and the survivors roam the village in search of relatives. They find scattered bodies that they bury in hastily dug individual graves. Then Assane leaves Moura with his mother, also a prisoner. Along the way, they discover and bury another 21 people, Assane counted.

It’s prayer time. Assane’s friends kneel on the carpet in the living room. He wants to go to the authorities. “Let the grassroots stop killing the innocent, he shouts. They made too many widows and orphans. The jihadists are threatening us, ordering us to grow our beards, cut our pants. Then the Fama, who is supposed to protect us, comes and kills us. It just adds instability to Mali.” It’s been a week since the attack. Before leaving the parlor to break the fast, Assane receives a message. New bodies were discovered in Moura.

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