BAMAKO (Reuters) - Attackers believed to belong to the Fulani ethnic group raided a rival Dogon village in central Mali overnight, killing at least 95 people and burning houses to the ground, local and government officials said on Monday.
Violence between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders has killed hundreds since January, including an attack in March in which gunmen killed more than 150 Fulani, one of the worst acts of bloodshed in Mali's recent history.
United Nations peacekeepers provided air support earlier on Monday to efforts by "the Malian government to prevent further attacks," U.N. spokeswoman Eri Kaneko told reporters in New York.
Sunday's raid took place in the Sangha district, where Fulanis from the neighbouring Bankass district descended on a Dogon village after dark, Bankass mayor Moulaye Guindo told Reuters on Monday.
"Armed men, apparently Fulani, fired at the population and burnt the village," said Siriam Kanoute, an official for the nearby town of Bandiagara.
Sangha mayor Ali Dolo told Reuters 95 charred bodies had been found so far, but that the death toll was likely to rise as the village was still ablaze.
"On a population of around 300 inhabitants, only 50 responded to the roll call," said Dolo.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was outraged by the attack and called on all parties in Mali to "show restraint and to refrain from retaliatory acts," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
A security ministry spokesman confirmed the attack, but said the assailants had not been identified. The government later vowed to find those responsible.
"The government of Mali presents its deepest condolences to mourning families and assures all measures will be taken to arrest and punish the authors of this carnage," the communications ministry said in a statement.
Malian authorities have come under fire for failing to disarm militias or beat back Islamist insurgents. Rights groups have also accused the Malian army of conducting extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture and arbitrary arrests against suspected sympathisers of jihadist groups.
Violence between Fulani and rival communities has compounded an already dire security situation in Mali's semi-arid and desert regions, which are used as a base by groups with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Those groups have exploited ethnic rivalries in Mali and its neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years to boost recruitment and extend their influence over vast swathes of territory.
The Malian government is seen as having lost its grip over parts of the country having outsourced the fight against jihadists to vigilante groups with scores to settle.
The Dogon suspect the Fulani of harbouring Islamist militants, charges the Fulani deny.
French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, in 2013 to push back a jihadist advance from the north but the militants have since regrouped.
(Graphic - Attack in Mali map, https://tmsnrt.rs/2WYhEd4)
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Souleymane Ag Anara, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Edward McAllister, Catherine Evans and Toby Chopra)