Shortly after rolling into the central Malian town of Koro to detain a leader of an ethnic militia suspected of massacring about 160 villagers, a pickup truck of army soldiers was swarmed by hostile residents.
Video provided to Reuters by a senior member of the Dan Na Ambassagou militia appears to show the troops beating a retreat amid a hail of rocks and angry chants.
The episode last weekend, which was confirmed by a local mayor, was an embarrassing blow to the state’s authority in central Mali, where Islamist insurgents have been capitalising on spiralling communal conflicts to recruit new members and extend their reach.
Government and army spokespeople did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the incident in Koro.
Mali’s prime minister and his entire government resigned on Thursday after legislators discussed bringing a motion of no confidence because of the massacre and a failure to disarm militias or beat back militants.
“The government’s failure to … rein in militia groups is now coming home to roost,” said Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch’s West Africa director. “It’s now threatening the very authority of the state.”
Western governments, including former colonial power France and the United States, are alarmed by the rise of jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in West Africa’s lawless Sahel region.
They have deployed thousands of elite troops there to make sure it does not become a new Islamist haven following the losses inflicted on the groups in the Middle East.
Governments across the Sahel have also tacitly outsourced part of the fight against jihadists to local self-defence groups, many of them intent chiefly on settling ethnic scores.