A Russian national operating alongside Malian soldiers was killed by a roadside bomb in the centre of the conflict-torn Sahel state, an army document and officials said on Wednesday.

A Malian army unit accompanied by a “Russian advisor” struck an improvised explosive device near the town of Hombori on Tuesday morning, according to a military memo seen by AFP.

The Russian died after being airlifted to the central town of Sevare, the Malian army memo said.

The death marks the first confirmed fatality of what in Mali are officially described as Russian military instructors.

The United States, France, and others say the instructors are operatives from the Russian private-security firm Wagner.

Mali’s army-dominated government denies the claim.

An official at a hospital in Sevare, who asked not to be named, confirmed the death and said the man was in his 30s.

An elected official in central Mali, who also requested anonymity, said that he had “learned of the death of a Wagner agent”.

Mali’s army has not officially commented on the events.

The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA, said it was “concerned” by allegations of human rights violations at Hombori’s weekly market on Tuesday.

The allegations involve an operation by the Malian army, which was reportedly accompanied “by a group of foreign soldiers”, it said on Twitter on Wednesday.

MINUSMA said it had opened an investigation “to verify the facts” and that it intended to visit the site soon, calling on the authorities to “shed light on these events”.

– UN ‘extremely concerned’ –

The UN Human Rights Office earlier on Wednesday said it was “extremely concerned” that the authorities had not granted MINUSMA investigators access to Moura, a village in central Mali which was the site of an alleged massacre of civilians.

Human Rights Watch said Malian soldiers and associated foreign fighters summarily executed 300 civilians there in late March. The army denied the accusation and said it killed around 200 jihadists.

Mali is ruled by a military junta that seized power in a coup in 2020.

It initially promised to restore civilian rule, but it failed to meet an earlier commitment to West Africa bloc ECOWAS to stage elections in February this year, prompting regional sanctions.

The junta’s friendship with Russia has also worsened friction with France, a traditional ally.

France, which intervened in Mali in 2013, decided in February to withdraw its forces from the country after a decade-long fight against jihadists.

Vast swathes of Mali lie beyond government control due to the brutal conflict, which began in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.


© Agence France-Presse