April 20 (UPI) -- An international watchdog reported Monday security forces in the western African country of Burkina Faso killed 31 unarmed detainees this month after a counter-terrorism sweep.
Human Rights Watch said they were killed April 9 as fighting intensified between government security forces and armed Islamic groups tied to al-Qaida and the Islamic State that have displaced more than 775,000 since March, the New York-based organization said.
The watchdog said government forces captured the detainees in Djibo, some 125 miles north of the capital Ouagadougou, and said it interviewed 17 people with knowledge of the killings, including 12 witnesses to the arrests and burials.
"The Burkinabe security forces apparently executed 31 men in a brutal mockery of a counter-terrorism operation that may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities," Corinne Dufka, HRW's West Africa director said in a statement.
"The government should stop the abuse, fully investigate this terrible incident, and commit to a rights-respecting counter-terrorism strategy."
Last week, Burkina Faso reported its first coronavirus-related death as militants stepped up attacks against government forces, including setting fire to a park office, executing soldiers in raids and kidnapping at least two people.
Burkina Faso officials have ordered dusk-to-dawn curfews in hopes of slowing the virus, and the violence.
"We are all focused on coronavirus while terrorism is another threat and the enemy is not far away," Zougmore Chrysostome, president of the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People's Rights, said.
Burkina Faso has reported 547 cases of the coronavirus and 32 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.