Nearly 100 people were killed in an overnight attack on a village in central Mali, in the latest violence to strike the fragile region, officials said today.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the massacre, targeting a village inhabited by the Dogon community, bore the hallmarks of tit-for-tat ethnic attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives.
It came less than three weeks after nearly 160 members of the Fulani ethnic group were slaughtered by a group identified as Dogon.
"Right now we have 95 dead civilians. The bodies are burned, we are continuing to look for others," an official in Koundou district, where the village of Sobane-Kou is located, said.
The government, giving a provisional toll, said 95 people had been killed, 19 were missing, numerous farm animals had been slaughtered and homes had been torched.
"Armed men, suspected to be terrorists, launched a murderous attack on this peaceful village," it said in a statement.
A Malian security source at the site of the massacre said "a Dogon village has been virtually wiped out".
The local official said the attackers came and "started shooting, pillaging and burning".
The village had about 300 inhabitants, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An association of Dogon traditional hunters, called Dan Nan Ambassagou, deplored the "barbaric and vile" attack which it described as tantamount to genocide.
The attack comes as a proposal to deploy the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) abroad for the first time in over a decade is to be formally made to Cabinet next week.
The Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe will seek Government approval for the deployment with the UN peacekeeping force in Mali before bringing the proposal before the Dáil.
A brutal cycle of violence in central Mali, an ethnic mosaic, began after a predominantly Fulani jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.
It started targeting the Bambara and Dogon ethnic groups, which in turn started to form "self-defence groups" of their own. The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Bambara and Dogon are traditionally sedentary farmers.
On 16 May, the UN peacekeeping 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 on 23 March at Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, by suspected Dogon hunters.
According to MINUSMA, armed Fulanis had "caused 63 deaths" among civilians in the Mopti region, also since January 2018.
"It's a shock, a tragedy," MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif said of the latest bloodletting, noting that it came at a time "when we are discussing the renewal of the (MINUSMA) mandate".
There are currently about 14,700 troops and police 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 to meet at the UN on Wednesday. A decision on renewing the force's mandate is expected by 27 June.