Mass grave with 21 bodies found near Mali military base
Remains believed to be those of soldiers who attempted counter-coup againt Gen Amadou Sanogo
A Malian soldier fixes a rocket during fighting with Islamists in Gao in February. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters.
Malian authorities have found a mass grave believed to contain bodies of soldiers missing since last year, a find the nation’s prosecutor said should lead to murder being added to charges against a former junta leader.
General Amadou Sanogo, who led a March 2012 coup that plunged Mali into chaos, was arrested and charged with complicity in kidnapping last week, a sign Mali’s new leaders are stamping their authority on the military.
Judicial sources said 21 bodies had been found overnight in the village of Diago near the southern garrison town of Kati, about 30 km north of the capital Bamako.
Police were guarding the shallow grave today but Diago residents said it was empty after Malian officials removed the corpses yesterday.
Mali’s chief prosecutor Daniel Tessougue said all signs pointed to the bodies found being those of 21 soldiers who disappeared after a failed April 2012 “counter-coup” by soldiers loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, but the formal identification process would have to be finalised.
“We will add murder to the charges (against Sanogo). If we find there are signs of torture we will add that too,” he said.
The case against Sanogo and several other soldiers is part of efforts by president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to assert civilian control over the army, accused by human rights groups of excessive violence and torture during a chaotic 18 months when rebels occupied northern Mali last year.
“We saw authorities come and exhume the bodies last night,” Yacouba Coulibaly, a Diago resident, told Reuters.
“We told the authorities a long time ago that there was a mass grave here from when soldiers came to bury people here in 2012. (It) was not a secret here in Diago,” Coulibaly said.
In an indication of the sensitivity of the case, Birama Fall, a reporter for Bamako’s Le Pretroire newspaper, said he was briefly detained last year and warned against writing about the missing soldiers after being tipped off by local officials.
“I had information but I was told by state security not to talk about it. Since then it has been a taboo subject,” he said.
Sanogo’s coup was popular as many Malians were frustrated at underdevelopment and high levels of corruption under Toure.
His star has waned in recent months but 12 policemen were wounded in clashes with pro-Sanogo demonstrators in Kati this week.
A senior military source said authorities had been instructed to inspect the site by judge Yaya Karambe, who is presiding over Sanogo’s case as well as those of several other soldiers questioned in an investigation into the “counter coup” and deaths of soldiers in a mutiny in September this year.