As concerns over human rights grow, Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council in a confidential report that Mali's counter-terrorism efforts had "disastrous consequences for the civilian population".

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The term "partners" in the report is believed to be an implicit reference to mercenaries allegedly deployed by the Russian Wagner Group. (AFP)

The UN secretary-general has called for Mali and its "bilateral partners" to respect their international obligations as concerns grow over human rights violations by the country's military in its battle with militants.

While acknowledging "widespread attacks" by militants, Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council that Mali's counter-terrorism efforts also had "disastrous consequences for the civilian population" in a confidential report obtained by AFP news agency on Thursday.

"I emphasise the duty of the State to do everything in its power to promote accountability and ensure that its military operations, including those carried out with its bilateral partners, are carried out in accordance with its international obligations," the UN chief said.

The term "bilateral partners" is believed to be an implicit reference to mercenaries allegedly deployed in the West African country by the Russian Wagner Group, believed to be close to the Kremlin.

READ MORE: Over a dozen Malian soldiers killed in twin attacks

Human rights concerns

"Some of the operations carried out by the national security forces to counter the violent activities of these extremist groups — apparently alongside foreign security personnel — have been the subject of allegations of serious human rights violations," Guterres said.

The secretary-general's report specifically cites the late-January execution of "at least 20 people" in the country's Bandiagara region, and civilian deaths attributed to a February air strike carried out by the military.

His report is the first submitted to the Security Council since a mid-February announcement that French and European military missions previously assisting in Mali's years-long fight with a bloody conflict were being withdrawn.

The Malian government has denied using Wagner mercenaries, admitting only to the presence of Russian "instructors" under a bilateral cooperation agreement concluded with Moscow that saw two combat helicopters delivered on Thursday.

READ MORE: Soldiers clash with militants in Mali, casualties on both sides

Source: AFP