Malian soldiers killed at least 25 civilians in the central Mopti region last week, a civic association and residents said yesterday, as concerns rose over alleged abuses during counter-terror operations in an area where extremists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state groups have carried out attacks.

Mali’s government confirmed the existence of three graves discovered by residents about 7km away from the village of Nantaka and said it would investigate.

Soldiers detained several men on June 13 and released all but 25 ethnic Fulani, according to a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his security.

The soldiers who came to Nantaka buried the 25 men after killing them, said Ibrahim Thiokari of the Fulani Association Tabital Pulaku.

In a statement, the Malian defence minister reiterated his determination and strong will to fight against impunity and to engage the Malian army in the strict respect of the convention of human rights and international humanitarian rights in the conduct of operations.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about increasing allegations against Mali’s armed forces as they carry out counter-terrorism operations in the Mopti region, where the Fulani are the majority and some have been recruited by extremist groups.

The vast majority of civilians reported killed in the operations have been Fulani.