Since their return from the advanced site of Gossi this Tuesday, April 19, the French soldiers of the Barkhane force have been the subject of serious accusations. A mass grave was discovered 3.6 km from the base they occupied. The response was not long in coming.
A rumour was born the day after, on Wednesday, returning the keys to the camp, which housed 300 French soldiers, to the Malian armed forces. A Twitter account in the name of Dia Diarra sounded the alarm: “The images of corpses from the Gossi base are terrible. A crime against the Malian people committed by France, which has played the role of a friendly country for 9 years”. The tweet’s author adds that a video illustrating his remarks would be broadcast on WhatsApp.
The following day, on Thursday, the same account posted an image showing several corpses covered in sand, blaming the French military for the macabre discovery. The same day, in the evening, Dia Diarra unveiled a 14-second video where the remains buried in the sand can be seen.
In the audio, one can hear the voices of two people discussing in Bambara, a language spoken in Mali, by at least two Malians. According to the comments made, it is they who are responsible for throwing sand on the bodies. Their exchange is edifying: “I don’t believe what they are telling us“, says one of them, adding: “I am drunk by this attitude“. Reply from his interlocutor in Bambara: “you don’t dig enough; the bodies must be well covered.” It appears that the two men who exchange these few sentences are not afraid of being understood by the men in uniform.
“This is what the French left behind them when they left the base at #Gossi (…) we can’t keep silent about that!” wrote the Twitter handle Dia Diarra, who describes himself as a “former soldier.”
Malian Armed Forces react
The General Staff of the Armies of Mali commented on the discovery through a press release made public this Friday. The Malian authority explains that Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) units were deployed to the scene for reconnaissance following the handover ceremony. “It was during this outing that the said patrol discovered this mass grave,” the note states. Moreover, the press release specifies that the Ministry of Defense of Mali has been seized for the opening of an investigation into this affair.
“The state of advanced putrefaction of the bodies indicates that this mass grave existed well before the handover. Consequently, the responsibility for this act cannot in any way be imputed to the FAMa”, he said in the press release.
The Malian army said it “deplores” being “maliciously the subject of communications aimed at misleading (its) rise in power and altering (its) image” as well as that of Mali.
The French army rejects these allegations and accuses Wagner of disinformation
“We have done our job properly and cannot be attacked dishonestly,” said Colonel Pascal Ianni, spokesman for the French General Staff, alluding to possible information attacks that the Barkhane forces (Operation Barkhane) could suffer for discrediting them after their departure. Reacting to the accusations, the French army decided to depart from the rule by disclosing, this Friday, April 22, the images of an aerial intelligence sensor placed above the base following their departure.
These images show the day after their departure, vehicles of the FAMa entering and leaving the base in the company of soldiers, who the French army claims are from the Wagner group. These men would have spent the night on the spot, more precisely 3.5 kilometres from the Gossi camp. The incident coincides with Dia Diarra’s first tweet mentioned above. Regarding the video published by the latter, which shows corpses buried in the sand, the images revealed by the French army show that they are “white” soldiers (presumably Wagner men) filming the scene alongside other soldiers, including Malians who were responsible for covering the remains.
As for the Dia Diarra account, it would be, according to the French army, a fake account created at the beginning of the year 2022. The man who describes himself as a former soldier would have used an image of a Colombian as a photo in his profile before replacing it with a picture of Assimi Goà¯ta, President of the Malian transition. The Twitter account no longer exists.
Paris decided in February on its military withdrawal from Mali, in a degraded security context and against a backdrop of tensions between France and the military junta in power, accused by Westerners of using the services of the Wagner group. Bamako, for its part, says they are simple Russian advisers. This case will further poison relations between Mali and France.