Suspected rebels have killed at least 17 civilians belonging to the Tuareg ethnic community in northern Mali, just days after 40 Tuaregs were killed during a similar raid on nearby villages, authorities say.
The attacks occurred on Tuesday in the village of Tindibawen, 160km east of the town of Menaka near the border with Niger, and in a nearby village, Nanout Kotia, mayor of Menaka, told Reuters news agency.
Violence has escalated in recent months as armed groups, once confined to the remote north of the west African country, have exploited ethnic tensions to recruit Fulani herders and extend their presence further south.
Fulani herders have come into conflict with Tuareg pastoralists over access to scarce water points.
In recent months, Tuareg civilian defence groups, supported by French soldiers, have fought against al-Qaeda-linked fighters in northeastern Mali.
The attacks in the villages may also be an attempt to further exploit tensions between Tuareg and Fulani herdsmen.
Mali has been struggling with lawlessness in the north since Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-linked fighters sought to take control there six years ago.
Tuareg rebels declared independence in April 2012, just a month after President Amadou Toumani Toure was pushed out in a coup.
But three months later they lost ground to Ansar Dine, a group with links to al-Qaeda that imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.
In early 2013, France intervened militarily to assist Malian government forces to take back the region.
Two years later, Mali’s government and Tuareg rebels signed a peace deal.[SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES]