Bamako, Mali — Mali’s army said Friday that it had killed 203 combatants in an operation in the center of Sahel state, an apparent uptick in violence in the conflict-torn country.
The army said the March 23-31 military operation took place in Sahel’s Moura area, which it termed a “terrorist fiefdom.”
Soldiers killed 203 militants, arrested 51 people and seized large quantities of weapons, according to the army’s statement.
The announcement came as numerous social media reports in Mali this week alleged that dozens of people, including civilians, had been killed in Moura.
AFP was unable to verify the army’s claimed death toll or the social media reports.
Poor access to Mali’s conflict areas and a relative lack of independent information sources mean that figures provided by either the government or armed groups are difficult to confirm.
An impoverished nation of about 21 million people, Mali has struggled to contain a jihadist insurgency that emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Vast swaths of the country are held by myriad rebel groups and militias, and thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict.
Mali’s underequipped army has also often been accused of committing abuses during the conflict.
According to a report seen by Agence France-Presse, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently warned the U.N. Security Council that Mali’s counterterrorism efforts had “disastrous consequences for the civilian population.”
In its statement Friday, Mali’s army said it was guided by human rights and international law, and it called for “restraint against defamatory speculations.”
The country has seen an apparent uptick in violence in recent weeks. The U.N. said Friday that thousands of people fleeing fighting in Mali had arrived in Niger.
A day earlier, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, said that security had “deteriorated considerably” in the border area with Burkina Faso and Niger.