RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some grim news to report out of Mali this morning. There are reports from a village in the center of the country describing a massacre. Local officials say at least 95 men, women and children have been killed. Hundreds of civilians have died in that country over the last few months. In March alone, 134 villagers died in a massacre in this same region.
Bram Posthumus is an independent journalist in Mali, and he joins us now. Can you just explain what we know so far about what happened in this village in recent days?
BRAM POSTHUMUS: What we know so far is that very early on the Sunday - last Sunday, armed men got in using pickup trucks and motorbikes and started burning down homes, sometimes even with the inhabitants still inside them, and used knives and guns to kill as many people as possible, with the now established death toll of at least 95. This went on for a couple of hours until they considered the operation terminated and then went on and disappeared.
MARTIN: Why? I mean, you say these are men on motorbikes, pickup trucks. Are they aligned in any kind of militia? And what's the motive?
POSTHUMUS: Well, this is where the - things get very, very difficult to explain. You know, if you go back a little bit, Mali was invaded in 2012 by a rebel force coming from Libya, the Tuaregs, which was then overtaken by groups of people who are commonly called jihadists. That was contained in the north for some time until it started spilling over into the center of Mali, where this has been happening. And the center of Mali has now become the hotspot, the focal point of all sorts of different types of violence.
And the key element here is the fact that the state is no longer present in this area. So the security is being organized by the people themselves. And this is where these militias come in. Now, whether the motivation for this is some terrorism, as the government is saying, or whether this motivation is self-defense - although, this looks very much like offensive action, obviously - or whether there are other motives at play, that is very difficult to unpack.
MARTIN: I mean, you say the state, though, has pulled out. I mean, that's a fundamental responsibility of a functioning state - to be able to protect its own people. What does that mean about Mali's government and the nature of it right now, its ability to serve?
POSTHUMUS: Well, that's exactly right. It's a statement of inability to serve. And this region, which is commonly known as the multi-region in central Mali, has seen, for instance, the closure of schools. When there were presidential elections last year, this was the region where a lot of people could not cast their vote. Basic services like health care are no longer being delivered. And obviously, the security, which is one of those very, very basic features that you need for everything else to function, is now being guaranteed - or rather, you know, halfheartedly guaranteed - by people themselves.
So this is where the problem is. The state should reassert its influence, either on its own or with international help, like the U.N. Peacekeeping force, which is here, in order for things to start functioning normally again. And as long as this doesn't happen, things will continue.
MARTIN: Bram Posthumus is an independent journalist reporting from Mali this morning for us. Thank you so much for your time and sharing your reporting. We appreciate it.
POSTHUMUS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.