French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, in 2013 to push back an extremist advance from the desert north, but the terrorists have since regrouped and expanded their presence into central Mali and the neighboring countries.
The group of gunmen, who Mayor Ali Dolo said were members of the Fulani ethnic group, fired gunshots and burned structures in the ethnic Dogon village of Sobanou-Kou in central Mali's Mopti region Sunday, CNN reported.
The killings highlight the Malian security forces' inability to contain the spreading violence, which has been blamed on extremist fighters linked to the Islamic State organization and al-Qaida and the growing danger of frightened communities arming themselves.
Amadou Sangho, spokesman for the Interior Security ministry, said another 19 people were missing after the Dogon village of Sobane was attacked around 3 a.m. on Monday.
"Over the recent months, violence has reached unprecedented [levels] amid retaliatory attacks and serious violations of human rights in central Mali impacting on all communities", U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned in March. It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack.
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A map locating the attack that took place on June 9 in Sangha district and March 23 attack targeting two villages in Bankass district in Mali.
The Fulani, in their turn, suspect the Dogons of having close ties with Mali's military. "No one was spared - women, children, elderly people".
The village had about 300 inhabitants, according to an official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said he was "shocked and outraged" by what he described as an "act of unspeakable barbarism". "The availability of weapons of war and the pretext of fighting jihadist groups have opened the floodgates to a level of ethnic-based violence that is without precedent in the region".
The unrest in central Mali has displaced some 60,000 people, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote, adding that he was "appalled" by the surge in violence and its effect on civilians.
Associated Press Writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed this report.