0523 GMT June 26, 2022
Local officials reported scenes of systematic killings by armed men in Diallassagou and two surrounding towns in the Bankass circle, a longtime hotbed of Sahelian violence, AFP reported.
"They have also been burning huts, houses, and stealing cattle – it's really a free-for-all," said a local official who for security reasons spoke on condition of anonymity.
He and another official, who like him had fled his village, said the death toll was still being counted on Monday.
Nouhoum Togo, head of a party in Bankass, the main town in the area, said the toll was even higher than the 132 announced by the government, which has blamed Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists for the killings.
The national authorities broke their silence on Monday afternoon after alarming reports proliferated on social networks over the weekend.
Togo told AFP that army operations in the area two weeks ago had led to clashes with terrorists. On Friday, the terrorists returned on several dozen motorbikes to take revenge on the population, he added.
The government blamed the attack on Fulani religious leader Amadou Koufa's armed group, the Macina Katiba.
Central Mali has been plagued by violence since the Al-Qaeda-affiliated organisation emerged in 2015.
A large part of the area is beyond state control and is prone to violence by self-defence militias and inter-community reprisals.
Since 2012, Mali has been rocked by an insurgency by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh terrorist group.
Violence that began in the north has since spread to the centre and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Civilians are often subjected to reprisals by terrorists who accuse them of collaborating with the enemy.
Some areas of the country, especially in the centre, have fallen under the terrorists’ control.
The military ousted the civilian government in 2020 over its inability to halt the violence, and has said the restoration of security is its priority.