AP reporter finds bodies in Malian desert

Associated Press

Associated Press West Africa bureau chief Rukmini Callimachi and her colleagues spent six months tracking down “what we would rather not have found: six bodies in the desert, including that of a 70-year-old grandfather who had become a symbol of the killings,” she writes.

There have been many reports of the Malian military’s involvement in the disappearance of Arab or Tuareg people after it reclaimed control of the country’s north from an occupation led by Al-Qaida. Callimachi was following a story she’d heard about a man named “Vieux” Ali Ould Kabbad who’d disappeared.

A source in Mali’s military pointed Callimachi toward two bodies. A shepherd led her to two more.

He walked over to the base of a dune, bent down and traced an X in the sand with his finger. He made two more X’s a few paces away. Then he walked off.

I yelled after him – which one is Vieux Ali’s grave? How many feet down? Petrified, he kept walking.

I left a trail of paper torn from my notebook in order to remember my way back to the X’s in the sand. Then I went to Ali’s house — but the entire family had fled.

A neighbor ID’d the bodies of Vieux Ali and his own brother, who’d tried to help Vieux Ali.

The Malian military strongly denied involvement with the killings. A spokesperson for Mali’s ministry of defense demanded AP “Show me the proof!”

After hearing that the AP investigation had located six of the bodies, he added: “We have nothing more to say about this.”

The bodies Callimachi found followed a similar discovery by her colleague, AP Mali correspondent Baba Ahmed, whose car had one day gotten stuck in the sand.

The children who came to help push it out pointed him to the spot where a middle-aged man’s white robe stuck out of the ground. He’d been
dumped less than a mile outside the city, a few hundred yards from a soccer field.

This is the third big scoop that derives from Callimachi’s first trip to Timbuktu after the occupation. In the first, she and Ahmed found an internal Qaida strategy document in an abandoned government building. The same cache of documents yielded a Qaida employee review that chastised a terrorist for not filing expense reports.

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