At least 95 people were killed in an attack on an ethnic Dogon village in central Mali in the latest deadly violence to hit the restive region.
Nineteen others were missing after unknown armed men attacked the village of Sobane-Kou, in the Mopti region, in the early hours of Monday, the government said in a statement.
No immediate claim of responsibility was made but the massacre bore the hallmarks of tit-for-tat ethnic attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives.
It came less than three months after nearly 160 members of the Fulani ethnic group were killed by a group identified as Dogon.
“This country cannot be led by a cycle of revenge and vendetta,” Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told ORTM public television from Switzerland, where he cut short an official visit.
He called on Malians to come together to “allow our nation to survive, because this is a question of survival”.
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The attackers also killed animals and burned down houses, the government statement said, adding an investigation was under way.
A Malian security source at the site of the massacre said: “A Dogon village has been virtually wiped out.”
A survivor who gave his name as Amadou Togo told the AFP news agency “about 50 heavily armed men arrived on motorbikes and pickups”.
“They first surrounded the village and then attacked – anyone who tried to escape was killed,” Togo said.
“Some people had their throats cut or were disembowelled, grain stores and cattle were torched. No one was spared – women, children, elderly people.”
Tensions have risen since an ethnic Dogon militia was accused of carrying out the massacre in an ethnic Fulani village in March.
Moulaye Guindo, the mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, told Reuters news agency that Fulanis had attacked the village after dark.
A local official told the AFP: “Right now we have 95 dead civilians. The bodies are burned, we are continuing to look for others.”
The village had about 300 inhabitants, according to an official who spoke to the AFP on condition of anonymity.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, said Malian troops were deployed at the village “trying to secure the area and to ensure there are no more attacks happening in the villages nearby”.
Speaking from Nairobi, Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb said the situation looked dire when local officials reached the site of the attack.
“When officials got to the village, they held a roll call for survivors. The village has a population of about 300 people and when they held the roll, they only had a few dozen coming forward.”
“One survivor told us the killing was completely ruthless. Women, children and the elderly… some of them had their throats slit, others were disemboweled,” added Webb.
Violence between the Dogon and Fulani has compounded an already dire security situation in Mali’s semi-arid and desert regions, which are used as a base by armed groups with ties to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.
The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Dogon are traditionally sedentary farmers.
“Jihadist terrorist issues have become mixed up with long-standing inter-communal tensions over access to land, water and grazing,” Paul Melly, a consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Africa Programme, told Al Jazeera.
“This has fostered tension between Dogon and Bambara farming communities, on the one hand, and Peul (Fulani) livestock herders on the other. The issues are not easy to solve. Population is rising; climate change is threatening the environment; jihadist preaching has injected an ideological edge; and there have now been a lot of killings, which fuels mistrust and bitterness.”
On May 16, the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced it had recorded “at least 488 deaths” in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 2018.
In the bloodiest raid about 160 Fulani villagers were slaughtered in March at Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, by suspected Dogon hunters.
MINUSMA said that also since January 2018, armed Fulanis had “caused 63 deaths” among civilians in the Mopti region.
Speaking about the rising tension, particularly in the last few months, Al Jazeera’s Webb said the roots of the violence date back six years ago, when groups linked to al-Qaeda took sways of land in the north of Mali.
“The French military deployed to fight them back. Since then a UN peacekeeping force was formed but the whole of northern Mali has remained unstable ever since.
“This has been exacerbated by climate change. It’s a semi-arid region, so people who are herders or hunters, as the Dogon, often find themselves in conflict with other groups over scarce resources and pasture land.
“A lot of people blame these armed groups that are linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda for fermenting ethnic tensions between the groups in this area and between the Dogon …and Fulani ethnic group who suffered a massacre just a few months ago.
MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif described the latest bloodletting as “a shock, a tragedy”, noting that it came at a time “when we are discussing the renewal of the (MINUSMA) mandate”.
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‘Arrest and punish’
Some 14,700 troops and police are currently deployed in Mali, which ranks as the most dangerous UN mission, with 125 peacekeepers killed in attacks since deployment in 2013.
Donor countries to MINUSMA are to meet at the UN on Wednesday. A decision on renewing the force’s mandate is expected by June 27.
Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, Annadif expressed regret that the Malian authorities had not been present enough in the area to prevent such violence.
UN mission provided air support earlier on Monday to efforts by “the Malian government to prevent further attacks”, UN spokesperson Eri Kaneko told reporters in New York.
Antonio Guterres, the UN chief, was outraged by the attack and called on all parties in Mali to “show restraint and to refrain from retaliatory acts,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
In Monday’s statement, the Malian government expressed its condolences and said: “Every measure will be taken to arrest and punish those responsible for this bloodshed.”
“Reinforcements are currently deployed in the sector and carrying out a wide-ranging search,” it said in a statement.