BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's interim military government has rejected a United Nations human rights office report on the alleged execution of at least 500 people by Malian soldiers and unidentified foreign fighters during an operation last year.
The ruling junta was responding to a report released on Friday after a months-long investigation into what rights groups described as the worst atrocity in a 10-year conflict between Islamist groups and the army.
"The transitional government vehemently denounces this biased report that is based on a fictitious narrative and does not meet established international standards," government spokesman Abdoulaye Maiga said in a statement on Saturday.
The report said Malian soldiers and foreign personnel descended in helicopters on the village of Moura on March 27 last year and opened fire on fleeing residents. In a roundup of civilians in the following days, hundreds more were shot and thrown in ditches, it said.
Maiga said a state investigation into possible human rights violations during the operation was still ongoing, but repeated previous comments that Islamist fighters were killed rather than civilians.
"No civilian from Moura lost their life during the military operation. Among the dead, there were only terrorist fighters and all those arrested were handed over to the gendarmerie," he said, stressing the authorities' commitment to the protection of human rights.
The U.N. report was based on interviews with victims and witnesses in the West African country, as well as forensic and satellite imagery. Malian authorities denied requests by the U.N. fact-finding team to access the village of Moura itself, it said.
Maiga said the authorities had opened a judicial inquiry against the fact-finding mission for allegedly not having sought permission to take satellite photos of Moura, which amounts to "a clandestine manoeuvre against the national security of Mali."
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mike Harrison)