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Niger probe: Soldiers executed dozens of civilians

September 5, 2020

An investigation into the deaths of more than a hundred people last year has put the blame on the country's army. Dozens of people disappeared after an Islamist attack at a military base in December.

Symbolbilder Niger Armee
Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Sanogo

Niger's army was responsible for the disappearance of more than 100 people in the western part of the country in 2019, the country's National Commission on Human Rights said in a new report published on Saturday.

Many of those that are missing are feared executed, the watchdog said.

The commission said those that disappeared were from the Inates zone in the troubled Tillaberi region. The disappearances occurred after a deadly attack by Islamic extremists on the military post that killed at least 71 soldiers last December.

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"It's not a question of incriminating the whole of Niger's army, it is a question of identifying some uncontrolled elements of the army who are to blame for the massacre and disappearance of 102 civilians in the Tillaberi region," said Ali China Kourgueni, the commission's secretary-general.

The watchdog said it was investigating earlier reports from human rights group Amnesty International that said the armies in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso were responsible for more than 200 disappearances. 

'Executions of unarmed civilians'

"There have indeed been executions of unarmed civilians and the mission discovered at least 71 bodies in six mass graves," said Abdoulaye Seydou, the president of the Pan-African Network for Peace, Democracy and Development. The group participated in the probe.

"It is elements of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) which are responsible for these summary and extrajudicial executions," added Seydou, who said those who were killed were attacked with blades and small arms.

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Seydou said more than 70 witnesses were interviewed between May and July this year, though added that there were limitations to the report. He said they were unable to determine if senior levels of the military were responsible for the deaths.

The government has received the report, but there has been no response.

Niger has suffered years of conflict with Islamic militants. The UN said extremist groups in the wider region, which includes Mali and Burkina Faso, killed more than 4,000 people last year.  

"What happened in Inates must not happen again," said Kourgueni. "The rest is now up to the judicial authority."

Soldiers in Mali and Burkina Faso have been accused of extrajudicial killings and other abuses as they take on a growing insurgency in the tri-border region.

kbd/mm (AP, AFP)