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Mass grave may hold secret to Mali’s missing soldiers

Photo: AFP

Investigators believe that a mass grave containing 21 bodies discovered Wednesday in Mali could be those of a group of missing Malian paratroopers. The gruesome find could also assist criminal proceedings against coup leader General Amadou Sanogo.


The discovery Wednesday of a mass grave containing 21 bodies in eastern Mali could soon shed light on the disappearance of a group of elite paratroopers last year and speed up criminal proceedings against the country’s most notorious military figure.

The bodies were found and exhumed from a shallow grave in the town of Diago, around 25 kilometres north of the capital of Bamako at around 3am local time, according to Serge Daniel, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Mali.

Sources close to the investigation told reporters that the remains appeared to be of the so-called Red Berets unit who went missing last year after a military coup toppled the democratically elected president Amadou Taoumani Touré.

“Identity cards found in the mass grave appear to confirm these are the remains of the missing red berets,” a security source told reporters.

However, FRANCE 24’s Daniel said that prosecutors remained cautious, maintaining that the bodies had not yet been identified.

Crimes linked to Sanogo?

Observers have linked the discovery to ongoing investigations into crimes committed before and during the coup and last week’s arrest of former junta chief General Amadou Sanogo.

Sanogo, who was taken into custody on November 27, led a military coup in the West African nation in March 2012 when he held the rank of captain. His was then detained for “complicity to commit kidnappings”.

The case against Sanogo and other soldiers is related to the disappearance of at least 20 soldiers during a failed “counter-coup” launched by soldiers loyal to the deposed Touré in April 2012.

The incident pitted loyalists – paratroopers known for donning red berets – against the “green berets” who rallied around the renegade Sanogo at the time.

The missing soldiers were last seen on May 2, 2012 at a military camp in Kati, the main town near Diago, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The families of the red beret soldiers have long feared they are dead,” Daniel noted.

Torture and more disappearances

According to Malian prosecutors the charges against Sanogo could soon include murder, conspiracy to murder, and torture.

Unnamed sources close to the investigation into the mass grave said that the discovery was made thanks to testimony by green berets who were previously loyal to Sanogo, some of whom confessed to participating in summary executions.

Torture was reportedly committed by soldiers loyal to Sanogo over a period of several weeks at the military base in Kati in May 2012, according to witnesses quoted by HRW in a November 1 report.

“The victims described being handcuffed and hogtied, beaten with batons, sticks, and gun butts, and kicked in the back, head, ribs, genitals, and elsewhere. Others said they were stabbed in their extremities and burned with cigarettes and lighters on their backs, hands, arms, and ears,” the international rights group said.

Human Rights Watch also reported that Malian authorities were looking into a series of abductions and killings between September 30 and October 3, 2013. Investigators have found at least four bodies of soldiers thought to have been killed during that time and are searching for the bodies of at least seven others.

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