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DAKAR – The deathplace of Saturday's attack by unknown gunmen on villagers in central Mali has risen to 157, a government spokesman said Tuesday, confirming it as one of the worst recent atrocities in a country occupied by ethnic violence.
The attack took place as a UN Security Council mission visited West African gold producing country to seek solutions to violence that killed hundreds of civilians last year and spread across the West Africa's Sahel region.
An official from a nearby town said on Saturday that armed men, dressed as traditional Donzo hunters, attacked villages populated by rival Fulani shepherds, many of whom suspects having Islamist extremists – Prosecutor Fulani denies.
The attack came less than a week after a deadly attack by jihadists on an army that killed at least 23 soldiers, also in Mali's central region. That attack was invoked by an al-Qaeda branch.
"The official death penalty is 157," said spokesman Amadou Kotia. Officials on Saturday said about 134 had been killed, even though they expected to rise.
Jihadist groups associated with al Qaeda and Islamic state have exploited ethnic rivalries such as those between Fulani and Donzo in Mali and its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years to increase recruitment and make large parts of the territory almost impenetrable.
French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, in 2013 to push a jihadist advance from the desert north, but the militants have since regrouped and expanded their presence in central Mali and neighboring countries.
Some 4,500 French troops remain based in the wider Sahel, most of them in Mali. The United States also has hundreds of troops in the region.