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Mali's junta has hit back at a new report accusing the army and Russian paramilitaries as well as rebels of "grave crimes" against civilians, saying it "totally rejects" the charges.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published the report on Thursday listing an unprecedented increase this year in the number of attacks on civilians in central Mali.
"Community self-defence groups, jihadists insurgents... the Malian armed forces and their international partners in the Russian paramilitary group Wagner continue to commit grave crimes, fuelling the cycle of violence," the report said.
"Attacks, summary executions, sexual violence: in central Mali the civilian population is in a living hell," it said.
The report also highlights "the impunity of those responsible" and "slowness of judicial proceedings".
"These allegations are mostly tendentious, unconnected and deliberate, with the aim of tarnishing the image of the Malian defence and security force," the junta-controlled government said in a document published late Thursday.
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"Facts are presented on the basis of... witness accounts backed by no real evidence and often made under the threat of terrorist groups."
The document said the army operated "with strict respect for human rights and international humanitarian law" and any alleged violations were always followed by "diligent treatment" and investigations.
The use of Wagner's services involves "Russian trainers and advisers" who have been in Bamako since 1960, according to the document, when "certain instructors" helped build the national army.
The officers who took over Mali in an August 2020 coup have brought in the Russians, which prompted France to pull out troops who had been battling jihadists for nine years.
The government said it "totally rejects" the FIDH charges of persecution against the Peul community, which is often accused of supplying men for jihadist groups.
The FIDH had ignored the "remarkable progress" the government has achieved against the jihadists, as well as efforts to stop impunity for crimes with changes underway in penal and military law, and a plan to set up a special court to handle gender crime.
The Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which is a member of FIDH and worked with it on a report in 2018, issued a statement saying it "dissociates itself" with the latest report because of "serious failings" involving "impartiality, objectivity and loyalty".
Mali has since 2012 seen thousands killed and hundreds of thousands flee their homes, in an insurgency that has spread to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
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