Two armed groups have formed in central Mali on either side of an ethnic rift that has caused violence to flare, their leaders told AFP on Thursday.
Over the past three years, nomadic Fulani people and farmers from the Dogon ethnic group have engaged in tit-for-tat violence, partly rooted in a dispute over cattle grazing.
“We have the numbers that it takes to defend our parents against the militias, notably the Fulanis, who attack them,” said David Tembine, the leader of a Dogon vigilante group.
It calls itself Dana Amassagou, “which means ‘The Hunters Who Confide in God‘,” Tembine said.
Separately, an organisation calling itself the Alliance for the Salvation of the Sahel has also formed to protect Fulani civilians from both Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso “against abuses”, Yessouf Diallo, one of the group‘s leaders, told AFP.
Central Mali is a vast area where the state is near-absent and jihadists, blamed for exacerbating the squabble, roam with little constraint.
In its latest quarterly report on Mali, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said protection of civilians in the region has “further deteriorated”.
Jihadist groups have “exacerbated” the violence between the two communities, causing an unprecedented number of civilian causalities in their operations targeting Malian and foreign forces, the report added.
The Fulani community routinely accuses the authorities of tolerating, or even encouraging, abuses against them by hunter groups as part of their fight against jihadists, which the government denies.
The unrest in the former French colony stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.
Although French forces removed the Al-Qaeda-linked groups from places such as Timbuktu, the insurgents have morphed into nimbler formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
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