BAMAKO, Mali — Mali faces unprecedented violence in its central region where extremists, armed groups and the military are committing abuses as fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group move in from the north, international rights groups said Wednesday.
More than 75,000 civilians have fled the intercommunal violence and extremist and military attacks in what has become the West African nation's most dangerous region, the International Federation of Human Rights and the Malian Association of Human Rights said in a new report.
Since the beginning of the crisis in central Mali in 2015 more than 1,200 people have been killed, the majority of them ethnic Fulani, who face accusations of links to al-Qaida extremists and have been attacked by local militia groups.
At least 287 people were killed, 91 percent of them men, in intercommunal violence between April and June, the new report said.
The rights groups urged the government to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes and serious abuses, saying more than 40 percent of attacks in the country are now taking place in the central region.
"There is no condemnation of the military at this time and we invite the government to judge the actors of the crimes committed by terrorists, but also those committed by Malian soldiers," said Malian Association of Human Rights president Moctar Mariko. Executions, sexual violence, hostage-taking and torture have occurred, Mariko said.
Soldiers have been responsible for the disappearance of at least 67 suspected extremists this year, the rights groups said.
"When the Malian army is attacked, in general, the reaction by Malian soldiers is not professional," Mariko said.
Army spokesman Col. Diarran Kone said there are complications working in central Mali.
"The Malian army works in complex conditions in the center and in difficult operations. There can be errors, which happens in all armies," he said. "I invite people to have more restraint and show presence of mind."
Malian soldiers have had training in human rights, Kone added, calling their behavior "exemplary."
Thousands are fleeing the violence. In the city of Mopti the number of displaced people increased from 2,000 in April to more than 12,000 in July.
Since 2012, northern Mali has faced attacks by Tuareg separatist rebels and al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist groups. In 2015, a peace agreement was signed between the Malian government and separatist groups but attacks by extremists have intensified and moved south.