At least 13 civilians have been killed in an attack blamed on jihadists against their village in central Mali, local officials said on Friday.
The attack on Kani-Bonzon on Thursday was not far from the border with northern Burkina Faso where at least 70 soldiers and a dozen others have been killed in less than a week in multiple attacks.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for one of those attacks, which killed at least 51 soldiers.
One local official told AFP news agency that the jihadists burned huts and granaries and took three people away with them in Kani-Bonzon.
Another official said locals who were not there at the time are now too scared to return.
An third official in the nearby town of Bandiagara reported that the attackers had also stolen cattle.
Locals demonstrated in the town on Friday demanding more security, he said.
Mali has been plunged into a deep security and political crisis since the outbreak of independence and jihadist insurgencies in the north in 2012.
The activities of jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaida or Islamic State have spread to the centre and both neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. The violence in the region has left thousands of civilians and combatants dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Central Mali has been one of the main hotbeds of violence in the Sahel since 2015 and the installation of the al-Qaida affiliated Macina Katiba group.
Three Senegalese peacekeepers were killed there on Tuesday by an improvised explosive device, a weapon of choice for jihadists.
The emergence of the Macina Katiba has rekindled or fanned old antagonisms between different groups over access to resources. The centre is plagued by jihadist abuses, but also by reprisals between communities, the actions of self-defence groups and banditry.
Al Qaida-affiliated groups impose deals on the population that allow them to go about their business in exchange for paying a tax, accepting Islamic rules and not collaborating with the Malian army or other armed groups.
The junta that has been in power in Bamako since 2020 launched a large-scale operation in the centre in late 2021, at the same time as it distanced itself from its historical ally, France, and drew closer to Russia.
The offensive in the centre involves elements who are Russian army instructors according to the junta and, according to its opponents, mercenaries from the private Russian company Wagner, whose actions have been decried elsewhere in Africa and in the world.
But access to independent and reliable information is difficult in what is a remote and dangerous area.
The junta insists that it has forced the jihadists into a defensive position.
A U.N. report released in January however said extremist groups were continuing to "expand their influence and attract new recruits" in the centre.
It also said that on several occasions "members of foreign security forces" had engaged in abuses, an apparent reference to the junta's new allies.
The northeast of Mali has been the scene of a push by the Islamic State in the Sahara group for months. It is generating intense battles with local armed groups and with rivals affiliated with al-Qaida and it is resulting in the killing of civilians and massive population displacement.
The situation has prompted European Council President Charles Michel to say that the Malian state is "collapsing. A senior Western official told journalists this week on condition of anonymity that there was "no longer a Malian state."
Malian foreign affairs officials denied Michel's comments, which they said were part of a "disinformation campaign" against Mali.
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