BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s government has more than halved its estimate of the death toll from an attack this week on a Dogon village, even as local leaders insisted that close to 100 were killed in the latest wave of ethnic violence.
Attackers believed to belong to the Fulani ethnic group raided the rival Dogon village of Sobane Da, in Mali’s central Mopti region, between Sunday and Monday, torching homes and shooting people in the back.
The government said on Wednesday the death toll of 95 first reported by the village chief had mistakenly combined the numbers of dead and of people missing.
“The number of people killed has been taken back from 95 to 35, including 11 adults and 24 children,” it said in a statement broadcast on state radio.
But Ali Dolo, mayor of the district in which Sunday’s attack took place, told Reuters the revised death toll did not take account of charred body parts that had yet to be identified.
“He has his toll, we have ours,” Dolo said on Tuesday, in response to a regional official who had previously challenged the 95 figure.
Malians have grown increasingly frustrated by failures of the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to protect them from both jihadist onslaughts and ethnic reprisals.
Mali, a former French colony, has been in turmoil since Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamists took over its north in 2012.
French forces intervened in 2013 to push back the jihadist advance but the militants have since regrouped, tapping into ethnic rivalries to recruit new members and launching attacks across the region.
Violence between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders has killed scores since January.
An attack in March killed more than 150 Fulani, one of the worst acts of bloodshed in Mali’s recent history. It forced the resignation of the then-prime minister and government.
In its latest statement, the government said six people had been detained in relation to the Sobame Da killings.
Unrest flared again on Wednesday, when gunmen attacked two Dogon villages in the district of Bankass, less than 50 km away from Sobame Da.
“Unidentified armed men on motorcycles are surrounding the village and firing at people,” Bankass mayor Moulaye Guindo said via telephone, describing the attacks as ongoing.
Guindo said people wounded in the attack had been taken to a local hospital, but had no information on the number of casualties.
Years of fighting and military presence have taken a toll on civilians. Three people were killed last week in the western region of Timbuktu, known for harbouring Islamist militants, after French troops fired warning shots at a suspect vehicle.
“This shot unintentionally caused the vehicle to explode,” the army said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the vehicle had been loaded with large quantities of petrol.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Sofia Christensen and Tim Cocks; Editing by Alison Williams