UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. police peacekeepers “used unauthorized and excessive force” that killed three people and injured four others during a protest in the northern Malian town of Gao in January, the United Nations said on Thursday.
A U.N. inquiry found that members of a police unit shot the protesters during a demonstration on Jan. 27, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on the findings.
Ladsous said four police were involved, but he did not identify their nationality. Gao residents accuse Rwandan police from the peacekeeping operation of firing on the protesters. The Rwandan U.N. mission was not immediately available for comment.
He said the police unit commander and police involved in the incident would be returned home.
“We trust that the individuals responsible will be held fully accountable for their actions and steps are being taken in this regard in full coordination with the authorities of Mali and the authorities of the police contributing country concerned,” Ladsous said.
The protest was linked to attempts by the United Nations to broker peace between armed groups in the area. The U.N. mission said on Jan. 27 that only warning shots had been fired.
“The inquiry also established that some protesters and organizers of the demonstration bear responsibility for the violence of the protest, which included Molotov cocktails, stone throwing and attempts to breach the perimeter (of the U.N. regional headquarters),” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said earlier on Thursday.
Five U.N. police officers were injured during the protest. The inquiry found that U.N. peacekeepers “were left to face the protesters on their own” after Malian security forces departed from their positions around the U.N. base.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali, known as MINUSMA, has been seeking to broker a peace deal between the northern rebels and the government. The rebels have refused to sign and talks are deadlocked.
U.N. peacekeepers have deployed across northern Mali to try to stabilize the vast region, which was occupied by separatist Tuareg rebels and al Qaeda-linked Islamists in 2012 before a French intervention in 2013.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “profoundly regrets the casualties among civilians resulting from the excessive use of force during this event by the MINUSMA personnel concerned,” Haq said.
“The Secretary-General is committed to ensuring that the responsible individuals are held fully accountable for their actions,” he said.
Additional reporting by Adama Diarra in Bamako; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Grant McCool and James Dalgleish