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Mali soldiers tortured, abducted 'Red Berets,' rights groups say

July 30, 2012 |  8:22 pm

Mali interim President Dioncounda Traore
Soldiers loyal to a captain who helped lead a military coup against Mali's government this year have tortured and abducted dozens of others accused of attempting a countercoup, according to human rights groups.

Members of the Green Berets, who are loyal to the junta, have arrested and abused paratroopers known as members of the Red Berets, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said, based on interviews with survivors and witnesses.

Some soldiers who were arrested and held at a military camp a dozen miles from Bamako, the capital, told human rights groups their captors stubbed out cigarettes on their bodies, stuffed cloth into their mouths to stifle their screams and forced them to have sex with each other. At least 21 detained soldiers were taken from their cells and disappeared, Amnesty International said Monday.

One witness told Amnesty they had seen men stabbed with bayonets. Other soldiers were abducted by the military while at a Bamako hospital, Amnesty International said.The group hasn’t been able to get their names or whereabouts.

Both human rights groups called on the interim government, which was handed power by the military leaders, to investigate the disappearances and other abuses, including crackdowns on journalists.

"Action must be taken to ensure the military junta doesn't continue to operate with impunity," Amnesty International West Africa researcher Gaetan Mootoo said Monday.

The coup in March ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure after soldiers became upset with his handling of a Tuareg rebellion in the north. The chaos allowed the Tuareg to advance in the north and soon drew in Islamic extremists who have imposed harsh religious law; one group, Ansar Dine, reportedly stoned a couple to death Sunday after they were accused of adultery.

The south, where the capital of Mali is located, has been troubled as well. Though coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo has agreed to hand over power, there are signs the military remains greatly influential. 

In May, members of the military allegedly stood by while protesters surged past security guards and beat interim President Dioncounda Traore until he lost consciousness. The elderly leader left for Paris to seek medical attention after the attack, returning to Mali last week.

Alarmed by the situation in Mali, a bloc of West African states has pushed the United Nations Security Council to approve sending regional forces to stabilize the country. The Malian military said last week that it was amenable to getting help to recapture the north from rebels and Islamists. The Obama administration has said it is considering intervention in Mali.

The crisis has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and exacerbated the threat of famine throughout the region, according to the United Nations.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, prepares to address the nation on Sunday in Bamako. Credit: Habibou Kouyate / AFP/Getty Images

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