Mali investigators find mass grave in search for soldiers

Soldiers crowd a truck in a street of Bamako on March 22, 2012. At least 23 soldiers loyal to the former president disappeared after the coup

A mass grave containing 21 bodies has been found in Mali by investigators looking for missing red beret soldiers.

Mali's chief prosecutor, Daniel Tessougue, told the BBC that the remains were found buried at Diago, about 20km (12 miles) north of capital Bamako.

The bodies were "probably" those of soldiers loyal to the former president, a justice ministry official told AFP.

President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a coup last year.

The general who led the rebellion, Amadou Sanogo, was charged with "murders and assassinations" last Wednesday, a judicial source told the BBC.

Disappeared

Gen Sanogo toppled President Toure in March 2012, accusing him of not doing enough to combat a Tuareg-led rebellion.

It plunged Mali into chaos, allowing Islamist militants to take over territory in the north.

At least 23 soldiers loyal to the ousted president - known as red berets - disappeared in the month following the coup. Gen Sanogo had accused loyalists of plotting a counter-coup.

Mr Tessougue told the BBC that investigators had found the bodies close to the coup leader's base near Bamako, in the early hours of Wednesday.

He said more work was needed to confirm the identities of the individuals.

Meanwhile a Malian justice ministry official told AFP: "We have found 21 bodies, probably of red beret soldiers, in a mass grave in Diago. The bodies were exhumed."

The discovery was made possible by information provided by military officials arrested along with Gen Sanogo last week, according to Radio France Internationale. At least seven people have been charged as part of the investigation, it reported.

Correspondents say the move is part of efforts by the newly elected government to assert control over the army.

Gen Sanogo, who was a middle-ranking officer when he led the coup, twice ignored a summons issued in October by a judge to answer questions about events surrounding the coup.

He was taken away in handcuffs from his home last week by about 25 armed soldiers for questioning.

The former junta leader was also charged with complicity in kidnapping, according to reports.

Islamist militants, who took control of the north of the country following the coup, were eventually ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

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