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Appearances are deceptive. These could suggest that two wars are being waged in parallel in the Sahel. The first would be almost without burr. It focuses, according to the vocabulary of staff releases, on the “Neutralization of armed terrorist groups”, in priority the “High value targets” of the jihadist movement. France, with 5,100 soldiers from Operation Barkhane and soldiers from the Special Operations Command (COS), is spearheading this.
This fight has known “A major success”, according to the appreciation of Florence Parly, the Minister of Armies, with the elimination of Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in northern Mali. The operation was carried out in particular on the basis of information provided by the American ally, but without the Malian armed forces (FAMa), as is generally the case when the raid is aimed “The top of the spectrum” jihadist, recognizes a French official.
The other war would be without glory and threatens the cohesion of the states where it takes place. It is made up of intercommunity massacres committed by local soldiers who feel they are foreign in the areas where they are deployed, of civilians executed on the faith of a simple suspicion, of soldiers whom fear transforms into a threat for the populations they had to protect. or even communities which, through intimidation or a protective reflex, join militias, in particular jihadists.
In recent weeks, investigations by human rights organizations and the United Nations have followed one another to point to the excesses of the armies of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the three countries where the fight against the katibas affiliated to Al-Qaida or to the Islamic State organization is the harshest.
Several mass graves
In a report published Wednesday, June 10, Amnesty International (AI) notes the acts of “Terror” and the “Killings” carried out under the guise of counterterrorism operations between February and April 2020. According to the NGO, ” soldiers [des trois pays précités] have killed illegally or subjected to enforced disappearance at least 199 people ” over this period alone.
In Mali, it was able to confirm that military operations carried out between February 3 and March 11 in the communes of Diabali and Dogofry resulted in 23 extrajudicial executions and 27 arbitrary arrests. Those arrested have since gone missing.
In Burkina Faso, a military justice investigation was opened after 31 residents of Djibo were arrested and executed on April 9 by the Groupement des forces antiterroristes. In Niger, between March 27 and April 2, 102 inhabitants of the Tillabéri region, one of the zones where the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS) is most active, did not reappear after their arrest by soldiers. Several mass graves have subsequently emerged in the area, ensure witnesses interviewed by the NGO. These denunciations are recurrent, but have so far never stopped this deadly dynamic.
No French soldier has been accused of having participated in or passively witnessing these abuses which are the bedrock of armed Islamists. Paris cannot however clear itself of the possible war crimes attributed to the armies of the region. France remains the first direct partner of these countries in the fight against jihadist groups. French soldiers go to the front with their Sahelian brothers in arms. France contributes to equipping and training forces.
Extreme French timidity
A joint command mechanism has been installed in Niamey, Niger. The two apparent wars are one. In his role as a mobilizer of international support, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian gathered this Friday, by telephone, forty of his counterparts as part of the coalition for the Sahel.
Asked about the questioning of the Sahelian armies, French diplomacy said “Concerned about alleged abuses” and “Calls for those responsible for such acts to be identified and brought to justice”. In Pau, on January 13, Emmanuel Macron and the presidents of the G5 Sahel states (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad) said once again that their “Joint action aims to protect the civilian population. ”
Six months later, the Elysée welcomes the “Renewed fighting spirit and capacity effort” of its partners, of “Improving coordination between “Barkhane” and the Sahelian forces which allowed a concentration of efforts and territorial gains “, but remains extremely timid when it comes to deciding on the guilty acts of his allies.
If European Commissioner Josep Borrell has not hesitated to declare that the commitment of the European Union “Is conditioned and based on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law”, after new suspicions of massacres involving the Malian army in the center of the country, a senior French official source judges that “ it is not up to us to position ourselves publicly since the states have announced investigations and sanctions. “ “Where our role is important, she continues, it is in the establishment of mechanisms to avoid a reproduction of these facts. ”
The fact remains that impunity remains the rule for the armed forces and that the reconstruction of a criminal chain in areas that have been largely abandoned by the state will take years. As it stands, which magistrate will go and investigate in areas where his security will be most relative?
“We must beware of amalgams. Not all soldiers are guilty of atrocities ”, warns Niagalé Bagayoko, director of the African Security Sector Network. Very critical of French military cooperation which “In fifty years has produced so few results at the operational level and with respect for human rights”, the head of the NGO considers that the word of France is expected, because “His silence can be interpreted as a blank check for impunity. “