UN 'deeply concerned' as communal violence surges in Mali

Members of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, on patrol in the town of Konna in July (AFP Photo/ISMAEL DIALLO) (AFP/File)

Geneva (AFP) - The United Nations on Tuesday said it was "deeply concerned" about a surge in intercommunal violence in central Mali that has killed hundreds of people since the start of the year.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country MINUSMA says at least 289 civilians have been killed in almost 100 documented incidents, the vast majority –- some 77 per cent -- in the Mopti region.

The violence highlights the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to hold presidential elections on July 29.

"In recent weeks, UN human rights staff in the country have documented an alarming trend of civilians being driven from their homes, either after being directly targeted themselves, because of the community they belong to, or after deadly attacks on members of their community in neighbouring villages," wrote the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a statement.

Violence has increased over the past three years in central Mali between nomadic Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers, sparked by accusations of Fulani grazing cattle on Dogon land and disputes over access to land and water.

MINUSMA said it has recently documented an escalation of attacks allegedly carried out by armed Dozos hunters and militias, who are linked to the Dogon ethnic group, against Fulani herders.

"These attacks are said to be motivated by a desire to root out individuals linked to the violent extremist group... (JNIM)," the OHCHR said, adding: "In reality, they have increasingly been indiscriminately targeting members of the Fulani community".

JNIM, or Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa'al- Muslimin in Arabic, is a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups which were previously linked to Al-Qaeda.

The group, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), has been behind several high profile attacks against domestic and foreign forces since forming last year.

The Dogon and Bambara communities have also been targeted by JNIM and Fulani militias, said the OHCHR.

It urged the Mali government to take measures to "prevent further grave violations and abuses of human rights in the region, including those committed by government forces".