The UN is “extremely concerned” that Mali has prevented its investigators from traveling to a town where local troops and suspected Russian fighters are believed to have killed hundreds of civilians, the world body said on Wednesday.
At least 300 men were reportedly summarily executed in a March 27-31 raid on Moura, a town of about 10,000 people infiltrated by Islamist militants, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Survivors said white mercenaries believed to be Russians took part in the massacre which sparked an international outcry and prompted the UN to open an investigation.
Mali denied the allegations, saying it had carried out a professional operation to attack the insurgents in Moura and would make its own assessment.
“We are extremely concerned that the Malian authorities have still not granted access to UN human rights investigators,” UN spokesman Seif Magango said in a statement. a statement.
“Time is running out to ensure accountability and swift and effective justice for victims,” he added.
Magango said unconfirmed sources suggest the death toll could be as high as 500, mostly civilians.
Soldiers also allegedly raped, looted and arbitrarily detained a number of Moura residents, the statement said.
The United Nations mission in Mali said separately on Wednesday it was concerned by reports of new human rights abuses by the Malian army, accompanied by a group of foreign military personnel at a market weekly in Hombori, northern Mali, on Tuesday.
The mission said on Twitter that it had opened an investigation and planned to visit the scene soon.
Mali is struggling to stem violent groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that have gained ground and increased attacks over the past decade, spreading south and to neighboring countries in the arid region of Sahel in West Africa.
A junta that toppled Mali’s government in a military coup in 2020 has sought help from private fighters from the Russian Wagner Group, accused of committing abuses in other countries and sanctioned by the European Union.
Mali and Russia have previously said they were not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
The Russian government denies any connection with Wagner.