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AP: A Reporter's Quest to Find Bodies in Mali

Author: Rukmini Callimachi
December 10, 2013

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Since January, Human Rights Watch has reported 24 killings of civilians by the Malian military, 11 disappearances, and more than 50 cases of abuse. Victims said they were beaten, electrocuted, waterboarded and injected with an acid-like substance. Amnesty International released similar findings last week, citing 24 killings and 11 disappearances, although it's unclear if they were the same ones.

Across the desert, the wind combs the sand into smooth ripples that roll out evenly for miles. So when a hole is dug, you see it immediately. The sand looks agitated. Its pattern is disturbed.

That's how you know where the bodies are buried.

Close to three dozen people in northern Mali disappeared earlier this year, killed or taken away by the country's military, according to human rights groups. The victims were caught in a backlash against Arabs and Tuaregs, desert people who form a small and shrinking ethnic minority in Mali. As the West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, I wanted to know what had happened to them.

Over six months, my colleagues and I tracked down what we would rather not have found: Six bodies in the desert, including that of a 70-year-old grandfather who had become a symbol of the killings. In each case, the victims had last been seen taken away by the Malian military at gunpoint. And in at least four of the cases, the military was found responsible in an internal report described to me but never released to the public.

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