An attack on a village in central Mali that left scores of people dead has left the country reeling in shock, underscoring the security challenges confronting it and stoking fears of further violence amid rising ethnic tensions between its Dogon and Fulani people.
The hours-long assault on the village of Sobane-Kou began late on Sunday and continued well into the night.
Survivors described armed men arriving on motorbikes and in trucks and surrounding the village of roughly 300 inhabitants in a largely ethnic Dogon enclave in Mali’s Mopti region. The attackers killed anyone who attempted to flee, set their homes ablaze and slaughtered farm animals, the survivors said.
The government on Monday gave an early death toll of 95, although there are fears the number of those killed could be higher.
There has been no claim of responsibility so far. The attack, however, bore the hallmarks of a cycle of violence – much of it driven by ethnic tensions – that has claimed hundreds of lives in the past 18 months.
In March, nearly 160 members of the Fulani ethnic group were slaughtered by a group identified as Dogon, in one of the worst acts of bloodshed in Mali’s recent history.
“Following that attack, a group Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen and their leader Amadou Kouffa – himself a Fulani -said that the Fulanis will seek revenge for these attacks,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from the capital, Bamako.
After the Sobane-Kou killings, “a Dogon leader has said these killings are an act of war and that he believes the Fulanis are responsible,” Haque added.
He said the latest killing has “shocked the nation” and is “affecting the fabric of Malian society”.
The rivalry between the Dogon, who are farmers, and the Fulani, who are a sedentary herder group, can be traced back to “deep grievances over land”, Haque said.
“We are at the height of the dry season so there is really a tension over land a scarcity of food, and both communities are suffering from a lack of food and access,” he said.
This is further compounded by government inaction, which Haque described as being “completely overrun by this situation”.
“The crux of this is that the state is not present. The military is not able to provide safety and security for both the Fulanis and the Dogons. Just in the last few months, 488 people are believed to have been killed in this intercommunal conflict.”
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a visit to Switzerland and was expected to return to Bamako on Tuesday.
“This country cannot be run by a cycle of revenge and vendetta,” he told ORTM public television in Geneva on Monday, urging Malians to unite to “allow our nation to survive, because this is a question of survival”.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse visited Sobane-Kou to “convey the support of the nation and check that security measures have been strengthened”, according to his office.