NIAMEY, Niger: Soldiers in Niger executed dozens of civilians during the counterinsurgency campaign against extremists in the country's troubled Tillaberi region earlier this year, a probe into the deaths reported.
The West African nation has suffered years of conflict with militants operating in the vast and inhospitable Sahel desert, with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed to date.
The national armies of Niger and its neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso have been accused of war crimes in their response operations, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
Niger's National Commission on Human Rights was investigating reports by Amnesty International and other rights groups that 102 civilians had gone missing in the western province between Mar 27 and Apr 2 after an army operation.
"There have indeed been executions of unarmed civilians and the mission discovered at least 71 bodies in six mass graves," said Abdoulaye Seydou, the president of the Pan-African Network for Peace, Democracy and Development, which participated in the probe, on Friday.
"It is elements of the Defence and Security Forces (FDS) which are responsible for these summary and extrajudicial executions," he added, saying those killed were attacked with bladed weapons and small arms.
But he said the investigation was unable to establish whether senior levels of the military hierarchy were responsible for the deaths.