UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Members of a U.N. police unit in the West African country of Mali used "unauthorized and excessive force" in fatally shooting three civilians and wounding four others during a protest in January, the U.N. announced Thursday. It was one of the most serious incidents of violence by peacekeepers in the past decade.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "expresses his deepest apologies" to the victims and their families and is committed to ensuring justice for them, the statement said.
The U.N. statement did not mention the nationality of the peacekeepers, who are from Rwanda, a major U.N. troop contributor. They will be repatriated in the next few days, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters.
It will be up to Rwanda to take action to hold them accountable.
Up to four peacekeepers were implicated in the shooting, and families of the victims will receive compensation, said Radhia Achouri, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.
The findings are based on an independent inquiry that Ban launched after the shootings in the northern city of Gao. The U.N. shared the findings Thursday with families of the victims and with Malian authorities.
"The chief of MINUSMA offered condolences," said Habiboulaye Ousmane Maiga, an uncle of Amadou Mahamadou, one of the protesters killed. The uncle said he was content with the fact that the mission had acknowledged its errors.
Ladsous, who briefed the Security Council about the inquiry on Thursday, did not say what assurances Rwanda had given that it would take action against the peacekeepers. Rwanda's mission to the U.N. had no immediate comment.
Mali's northern half came under control of al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention in early 2013 scattered the extremists, but the country is growing increasingly unstable, and U.N. troops are struggling to maintain peace, with 46 troops killed so far.
Peace talks continue with a coalition of armed groups seeking autonomy for Mali's north, international mediators and Mali's government.
David Gressly, the U.N. deputy special representative in Mali, said shortly after the January shootings that the peacekeepers fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse the protest involving about 2,000 people, but two witnesses told The Associated Press they saw U.N. troops fire live rounds into the crowd.
The inquiry also found that some protesters bear responsibility for the violence, which also wounded five U.N. police officers. It said protesters used Molotov cocktails, threw stones and tried to "breach the perimeter" of the base.
Members of the U.N. mission were "left to face the protesters on their own in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement with the host country," the statement said. Mali police are tasked with guarding the perimeter of the base but reportedly fled during the protest.
The U.N. as of the end of February had more than 9,800 military and personnel in the country.
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali, contributed.