US urges Mali to investigate, hold accountable those to blame for Moura attack

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Monday urged Mali's transition government to pursue an "independent, impartial, efficient, exhaustive, and transparent investigation" to hold accountable those responsible for the likely execution of hundreds of people in one village.

"The United States is appalled by the disregard for human life exhibited by elements of the Malian Armed Forces in cooperation with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group – a transnational criminal organization – during the operation in Moura," U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Malian soldiers and unidentified "armed white men" likely executed at least 500 people, and sexually assaulted or tortured dozens of others during a five-day operation in the village of Moura in central Mali last year, the U.N. Human Rights Office said on Friday.

The identity of the white men was not clear, U.N. Human Rights Office regional spokesperson Seif Magango said. But Western countries have raised concerns over Russian private military contractor Wagner Group's activities in Mali since late 2021, including allegations of its role in Moura.

Mali, whose leaders seized power in a 2021 coup, and Russia have previously maintained that Russian forces there are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.

Russia's U.N. envoy, Maria Molodtsova, told a U.N. human rights meeting in Geneva earlier this month that those killed in Moura were militants and that the military operation "contributed to peace and tranquillity."

"The United States continues to stand with the Malian people in the fight against terrorism," Miller said in a statement. "Human rights abuses and violations like those committed at Moura will serve only to drive aggrieved civilians into the ranks of terrorists and other armed groups."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at United Nations; Editing by Matthew Lewis)