DAKAR: Human Rights Watch called on Mali's government Tuesday to track down and prosecute soldiers accused of committing atrocities including torture and summary executions in the war against Islamic extremists.
Malian authorities should "urgently investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for torture, summary executions, and enforced disappearances of suspected Islamist rebels and alleged collaborators," the New York-based organisation said in a statement.
HRW said its investigations had found that since mid-January, when the French-led offensive against armed Islamists in Mali's desert began, Malian troops had carried out abuses against members of the Tuareg, Arab and Fula communities.
"The Malian government needs to act now to put a stop to these abuses by their soldiers and appropriately punish those responsible," HRW added. "Mali's international partners should bolster accountability efforts and civilian protection in the north to help prevent further abuses."
Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher in HRW's Africa Division, cited the case of two young Fulas accused of being fighters for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Islamist groups that occupied north Mali for some 10 months.
"Soldiers forced the men into an army vehicle and drove them to the outskirts oh the village... Some minutes later, villagers heard several gunshots... The two men have not been heard from since."
In another case in February soldiers allegedly detained a 43-year-old Tuareg man. "He was severely beaten, burned on his abdomen and genitals with cigarettes, partially strangled and then forced to ingest through his nose a toxic substance that severely burned his oesophagus," Dufka added.
The war in northern Mali -- an area larger than France -- has sent 22,000 civilians, mostly pale-skinned Tuaregs and Arabs who say they are afraid of reprisals by the Malian army, HRW said.
The organisation called on Malian authorities "to address abuses by the military and address urgent civilian protection needs within the current security vacuum".
The restoration of security in northern Mali should mean that everybody is protected, whatever their ethnic background, Dufka said.