The leader of the country’s largest Fulani association said the death toll was higher, with 32 civilians killed Saturday when a community militia attacked Koumaga village in the central part of the West African nation.
The death tolls differ because many bodies had been buried by the time Malian security forces arrived, Abdoul Aziz Diallo with the Tabital Pulaku association told The Associated Press.
The militia members first killed herders outside Koumaga before entering and “starting to fire on the villagers,” he said, adding that another eight people were missing.
Koumaga village has the reputation of being home to a number of al-Qaida-linked extremists. Such fighters have been attacking security forces and a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali regularly since 2015.
Security is a key concern ahead of the July 29 election in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is running again.
Concerns have been rising over alleged abuses during counterterror operations by Malian security forces in Fulani-majority areas where extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have carried out attacks and recruited locals as fighters.
Last week the United States expressed concern after Mali’s government acknowledged allegations by the Fulani association and others that soldiers had entered another village, Nantaka, separated out 25 Fulani men and killed them.
Mali’s government also confirmed the existence of three graves discovered by residents outside the village and said it would investigate.
The vast majority of civilians reported killed in counterterror operations have been Fulani, and human rights groups have warned that abuses risk pushing villagers into joining extremist groups.