At least 31 people were killed on Friday in an attack on a village that was the scene last year of Mali's worst civilian massacre in recent memory, the government said.
A government statement issued late Friday did not say who carried out the early morning attack on Ogossagou, a village of Fulani herders in central Mali.
Malian government spokesman Yaya Sangare earlier said that 21 people had been killed in the attack, according to a provisional tally, and that others were missing. "Huts and crops were set alight, livestock was burned or taken away," he added, vowing that the government would find the perpetrators.
A local government official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that 28 people were missing. He blamed the attack on a traditional Dogon hunters' group – an assertion that could be not be verified independently.
About 30 gunmen carried out the new attack, village chief Aly Ousmane Barry told AFP.
The official and Barry both said the attackers moved in several hours after government troops had pulled out of the area.
"They came and shot everything that moved," Hamadou Dicko from Fulani association Tabital Pulaaku told Reuters.
Moulaye Guindo, mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, and another local official, who declined to be named, said the latest attack came less than 24 hours after Malian troops who had been stationed near Ogossagou left their base. An army spokesman said soldiers had been deployed to respond to the attack but did not give details.
In the attack on Ogossagou in March, suspected militiamen from a rival group killed more than 150 civilians, part of spiraling ethnic and extremist violence in West Africa's vast Sahel region.
Central Malian residents have criticized the army for failing to protect them against the violence that has displaced 200,000 people and left many communities with no local government or means of defense.
They have turned to self-defense militias for protection against extremist terrorists and rival ethnic groups though the defense groups have also used their weapons to settle scores.
Malian officials have said they suspect Dan Na Ambassagou, an ethnic Dogon group of carrying out last year's massacre in Ogossagou. The group denies responsibility.
Meanwhile, in an ambush in the central Gao region on Friday, eight Malian soldiers were killed and four others injured, the army said.
The Malian force also suffered "material damage," the military said on social media sites, without saying who had carried out the attack in the village of Bintia.
Also on Friday, a soldier was killed in an attack on a military camp in Mondoro, also in central Mali, security officials said.
The camp had been hit before – as part of a joint raid by militants that also targeted the military camp of Boulkessy near the border with Burkina Faso, killing at least 25 soldiers.
Ethnic violence gripped central Mali after a revolt broke out in the north of the country in 2012. The insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Tit-for-tat attacks in central Mali flared after predominantly-Muslim Fulani people, also called Peul, became associated with extremist terrorist groups. Led by a firebrand preacher Amadou Koufa, a militia called the Katiba Macina recruited members from among the Fulani. The militia has been accused of carrying out ethnically-motivated attacks.
Other ethnic groups such as the Bambara or the Dogon began to form self-defense groups that in turn became accused of reprisal massacres.
In addition to the latest attack at Ogossagou, 14 Fulani were killed in central Mali in January. At least 30 others were killed in central Mali in January.
Around 75 Dogons were killed in the villages of Sobane Da, Gangafani and Yoro in June last year, in an attack blamed on Fulani militants.
French forces intervened in 2013 to drive back terrorists linked to al-Qaida who had seized northern Mali the previous year, but the militants have regrouped, stoking ethnic rivalries in central Mali and elsewhere to boost recruitment and destabilize the region.
Human Rights Watch this month pointed to the ethnic patchwork of central Mali as the country's "epicenter" of violence.
It said over 450 civilians had been killed in the region in 2019, "the deadliest year for civilians" since the insurgency began.
Reflecting on the chronic instability in the center, Malian soldiers are themselves frequently targeted. On Jan. 26, al-Qaida-linked militants attacked a military camp in Sokolo, central Mali, killing 20 gendarmes and wounding five more.
The violence in central Mali coincides with renewed hopes that the fragile government can reassert control over the widely lawless north. Troops returned on Thursday to Kidal, a northern town that had been a bastion of Tuareg rebels, after a six-year absence.
Regular forces returned to the town accompanied by former rebels who have been integrated into the army under a regional peace agreement.
The deal, reached in Algiers in 2015, is considered one of the few avenues Mali has for escaping the cycle of violence.