Mali attack: More than 130 Fulani villagers killed


But the massacre of civilians at the villages of Ogossagou and Welingara on Saturday, which left the charred bodies of women and children smouldering in their homes, has shocked a population long inured to gratuitous killing.

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Security sources say the dead include pregnant women, children and elderly people.

The Fulanis have also in the past accused Mali's army of arming hunters to attack them.

President Keita has removed the army chief of staff, General M'Bemba Moussa Keita and replaced him with General Abdoulaye Coulibaly, whilst the chief of land forces General Abdrahamane Baby was replaced with Brigadier-General Keba Sangare.

In response to the incident, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced the dissolution of a so called defence group and dismissed several high-ranking military commanders.

In a statement, the presidency said that "the protection of the population remains and will remain exclusively in the hands of the state", distancing itself from claims that it has outsourced the fight against the jihadists. The district has been the scene of frequent intercommunal violence.

It took place as a UN Security Council mission visited Mali to find solutions to the violence.

And a year ago, 500 civilians died in similar clashes, according to United Nations figures. The semi-nomadic Fulani people are dispersed throughout the Sahel region and West Africa.

Last year, hundreds of people died in clashes between Dogon hunters and members of the Fulani ethnic group. But the government in Bamako has denied their accusations that it turns a blind eye to - or even encourages - Dogon attacks on the Fulani.

Armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) have exploited ethnic rivalries in Mali and its neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger to boost recruitment and render vast swaths of territory in the Sahel region virtually ungovernable.

Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

In June 2015, Mali's government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups but jihadists continue to move, especially in areas where there is no law enforcement.

In 2018, 202 civilians were killed in communal violence in 42 incidents in Mali's Mopti region, according to New York-based group Human Rights Watch.