UN peacekeepers in Mali on Thursday offered to help bring to justice jihadists behind the amputation of suspected thieves' hands and feet, an apparent revival of a practice that had all but vanished.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, local sources in Tin-Hama in eastern Mali said armed men drummed up a crowd on May 2, a market day, and cut the right hands and left feet off three men they paraded as thieves.
The gunmen are believed to have belonged to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), one of the main jihadist groups active in the Sahel region, the UN's Minusma force said in a statement.
"This kind of corporal punishment carried out by armed groups outside of any legal order is a serious infringement of human rights," Minusma chief El-Ghassim Wade said.
UN forces stand ready to "support continuing enquiries by Malian authorities to fight impunity and ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are brought to justice," he added.
Minusma also said it was deploying "significant security resources in the affected areas to step up protection of populations".
The amputations "recall the horrors of the 2012 crisis" when jihadists and Touareg rebels took control of much of Mali's north, the UN statement added.
At the time, various jihadist groups conducted public amputations, stonings, floggings and executions in major northern cities under their hardline interpretation of Islamic law.
Since 2012, jihadist insurgents have spread across Mali's centre and into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the violence.
UN, African and French forces have failed to put an end to the insurgency.
Unidentified men killed one soldier when they attacked a Malian anti-terrorist unit near Tominian in the country's centre late Wednesday, while the troops killed three of the assailants, a security official said on condition of anonymity.