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DAKAR: Mali’s military said it has killed over 200 militants in an operation in the centre of the West African country, the latest clash in a month of escalating violence.

The strikes, carried out in late March by land and air troops, targeted the area of Moura which the military says is a stronghold of militants that have waged a decade-long fight for territory in central and northern Mali.

“This operation follows very precise information that made it possible to locate the holding of a meeting between various (militants) in Moura,” a military statement said.

Mali has been in turmoil since 2012 when insurgents took over a northern separatist rebellion. Local affiliates of Islamic State and al Qaeda have used the area as a launch pad for attacks in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands.

A spate of violence by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in March claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. The military responded with airstrikes, and the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali deployed two units to the zone.

Rights groups have expressed concern about the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire or wrongly accused of being militants.

Soldiers killed at least 71 civilians between December and March, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report last month. The military, which denied the charges, is investigating allegations of human rights violations in the centre and north of the country.

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