Harare — Mali's transitional government reported that 64 people, including numerous civilians, were killed in two strikes carried out by suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants on Thursday in unrest-plagued north.
According to AFP, the strikes targeted a passenger boat on the Niger River close to Timbuktu and an army post in Bamba, in the northern Gao region, killing 49 people and 15 troops, according to a statement from the interim administration.
The militant group Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to authorities. They have since proclaimed three days of national mourning in the country, which has experienced an uptick in violence following two military coups in the previous three years.
Since the Malian army sent reinforcements to the area in late August, armed groups have been blockading Timbuktu, obstructing supplies from getting to the desert city.
The horrific attacks take place as the UN, at the government's request, is getting ready to leave Mali with its 17,000-person peacekeeping mission MINUSMA. Up to the end of the year, the pullout is expected to be finished. Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop also accused the UN of making the country's security issues worse.
The deteriorating conditions in the impoverished Sahel state have drawn significant concern from experts. According to a UN Security Council assessment issued in August, "Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has almost doubled its areas of control in Mali in less than a year."
The UN also voiced alarm over human rights violations committed by the Mali military and "their foreign security partners."
In order to combat the Islamists, Mali's military junta has invited hundreds of Russian Wagner contractors there. After the passing of Wagner's director Yevgeny Prighozin, it is unknown what has become of them.
"Violence against women and girls and conflict-related sexual violence remains prevalent in Mali, perpetrated by signatory parties, their affiliated partners, Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. Such violence occurs in a context of fear of reprisals, scarce reporting of incidents and a vacuum of accountability mechanisms, leading to impunity," UN experts said in the report.
In Mali, there are about 9 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Earlier this month, UN agencies reported that 200,000 children were at risk of hunger.
A nexus of protracted armed conflict, internal displacement and limited humanitarian access threatens to plunge nearly one million children under the age of five into acute malnutrition by the end of this year - with at least 200,000 at risk of dying of hunger if life-saving aid fails to reach them, UN agencies said.
"In addition to conflict and violence, climate shocks have forced massive displacement in recent months. As of the end of June, over 377,000 people have had to flee, more than half of them being children."
The most recent estimates indicate that at least 1.6 million children require immediate protection. UN organizations confirmed 1,024 serious crimes against them in 2022, involving killing and maiming as well as recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups.
Conflict and lack of resources have also forced more than 1,700 schools to close, keeping at least half a million children from accessing education, and exposing them to further abuses.